Like FalconStor Software (FreeStor), IBM (Spectrum), EMC (ViPR), and virtually every other IT hardware or software vendor that can recognize an opportunity, Dell is busy pushing its software-defined storage agenda (Blue Thunder). It may only account for a small fraction of the enterprise storage market, but while that market is growing at 5.1%, SDS is exploding at a CAGR of 35.20% over the period 2015-2019. Last month Big Blue pledged to invest more than $1 billion in its storage software portfolio over the next five years. SDS is still in its infancy, said storage guru George Crump, Storage Switzerland, but offerings like FalconStor’s FreeStor “promises to mature the category in a hurry.”
Shipping today, Dell’s latest SDS initiative involves the second generation of its XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances, powered by Nutanix software and its PowerEdge 13th generation servers. Benefits include improved performance, more than 50% greater storage capacity, and up to twice the rack density of initial XC Series appliances. Version 2.0 family includes the XC630 (1U form factor) and XC730xd (2U), which can support 60% more storage, up to 32 terabytes, compared to the previous generation.
The new appliances offer customers a lot more choice, said Travis Vigil, Executive Director of Product Management, Dell. In addition to the usual performance improvements courtesy of Moore’s Law, there is a new degree of modularity, form factors and price points. “It allows us to have much better granularity,” and lowers the entry price point from $50,000 to $32,000.
“Dell has emerged as a global leader in software-defined storage solutions, based on its unique, broad and embracing approach to work closely with key storage software vendors to deliver robust, validated solutions on Dell hardware that’s backed by Dell global services and support,” said Scott Sinclair, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, in a prepared statement. “The Dell and Nutanix marriage is a win for both companies, and, ultimately, customers. Nutanix gains by partnering with a global leader with proven server technology and services, and Dell gains by being the only large vendor integrating its servers with Nutanix’s market leading hyperconverged software. Customers get the known quality and support of Dell plus Nutanix’s easily scaled and managed software for virtualized environments.”
“I think that with the Version 2.0, we’re seeing a lot of momentum, customer pull,” he said. “Overall we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve had with the product line to date.”
Dell has sold more than 100 of the first-generation Nutanix-based appliances. “Selling over 100 of the appliances in the first couple months was beyond our expectations,” said Vigil. “We also had a lot of customers looking at the initial versions based on the 12th-generation servers as proofs-of-concept while looking at when we would start using the 13th-generation servers.”
The XC630’s 1U chassis is attractive for customers with limited rack space, for example in a remote office, he said. “It is also the first 1U Web-scale appliance from anyone in the market.”
Talking about Blue Thunder last Fall, Vigil told IT Trends & Analysis a major driver for Dell’s storage initiatives is responding to customers’ demands for less complexity. “The market is becoming more complex, more choices so what we’re trying to do is simplify choices,” he said.
While SDS is the hottest trend in storage – sorry flash – it’s not without its challenges, according to storage guru George Crump, Storage Switzerland. He said there are three problems with software defined storage: leveraging the current infrastructure; incomplete data services; and lack of cloud economics.
“To increase adoption rate, SDS solutions actually need to be less aggressive in their approach to the data center. Instead of forcing a move to commodity storage, they should improve the usefulness of the existing storage infrastructure and storage hardware.”
They must also provide a full array of data services that more than match what is available from the typical storage system AND “the economics have to make sense.” This would result in a less disruptive adoption of SDS that would appear to be more gradual but actually be faster than the current SDS adoption rate, he noted.
Vigil believes there was a wait-and-see approach from larger enterprises, although there was a lot of interest in the initial release back in November. “With larger customers, there is a buying cycle… many of those customers are waiting for this release before start buying.”
He thinks the traction they’ve seen with 1.0 will accelerate going into 2.0, especially when it comes to VDI. Many of the larger customers are looking at VDI because XC is very well suited for that. “It’s the largest chunk of the workload we’ve seen to date”.
SDS is still a relatively small part of the market but Vigil said Dell is seeing “a ton of interest” and that customers are appreciating the validation and the reference architectures they’re putting out. The company plans to continue to enhance the portfolio this year, including adding KVM to the Microsoft and VMware hypervisors currently supported.