Dell makes slew of virtualization announcement ahead of VMworld

Dell made a slew of virtualization-related announcements Wednesday morning in anticipation of next week’s VMworld user conference in Las Vegas.

Dell announced new blade and rackmount servers optimized for a virtual environment, its biggest ever storage arrays and new services and partnerships, including full support for Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor, in a conference call last week.

Chris Ratcliffe, director of global services and solutions marketing for Dell, said the new offerings are an extension of the portfolio Dell announced in May of this year.

Ratcliffe said Dell’s applying its “simplify IT” strategy. When technologies are overpriced, overly complex and underutilized, he said, “we disrupt markets” by supplying cheaper, less complex technology. With the PC, server and storage markets under its belt, Ratcliffe said, “now we’ve got virtualizaton in our sights.”

Rick Becker, vice-president of software and solutions for Dell, said the company’s standards-based offerings have an advantage over competitors’ proprietary solutions. “On their own merit, they’re sophisticated solutions, but they add a whole new layer of complexity to the customer’s data centre,” Becker said.

The new full-height blades are designed specifically for a virtualized environment, said Sally Stevens, director of server platform marketing. The PowerEdge M805 is a two-socket blade with quad-core AMD processors and 16 DIMM sockets, a similar capacity to HP and IBM four-socket blades, according to Stevens. The PowerEdge M905 is a four-socket blade with 24 DIMM sockets.

The rackmounted PowerEdge R900 is a four-socket server with six-core processors and embedded hypervisor.

The company also announced a pair of high-bandwidth switches. The M8024 is a 10 Gb Ethernet switch with modular ports – each of two port bays can accommodate four SFP ports, two 10Gb Ethernet ports or three CX4 ports. The M5024 Brocade FC8 switch has 16 internal ports and eight external.

John Joseph, the company’s vice-president of marketing for its EqualLogic storage line, detailed the company’s new storage hardware and software in a separate telephone briefing.

The PS5500E accommodates 48 – 500GB or 1TB SATA hard drives in a 200-pound, four-unit rack, making a 24TB or 48TB array. A dozen of the arrays can be used under a single SAN management interface for 576 TB – more than half a petabyte – of storage.

“I think we’ll see the majority of the systems sell out at 48 TB,” Joseph said, since the cost per terabyte is a little more than half of that for 24 TB system. Though they can be pooled, each box is an all-inclusive SAN, according to Joseph. The drives are SATA only, but other fabrics may be accommodated soon, Joseph said.

The accompanying software extends the SAN’s application aware snapshot agent technology to VMware virtual machines. An agent is loaded onto the server; at a predetermined time, it pauses the application and takes a snapshot. The snapshot workload is handled by the array, not the server. Administrators can roll back and restore down to the individual virtual machine level.

Dell previously integrated snapshot protection with Microsoft’s SQL and Exchange servers and Windows file system. The VMware integration is an example of “driving innovation at the operating system level,” Joseph said. “We consider VMware as an operating system.”

Dell will also integrate its SAN software to the same extent with Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor technology, Joseph said, but he wasn’t ready to disclose a timeline.

Storage management is an important foundation for a virtualized infrastructure, said Andrew Reichman, senior analyst with Forrester Research, in an e-mail interview.

“Server virtualization is a big driver for SAN adoption, but it’s clunky to manage storage for virtual server environments,” Reichman said. “Since a big part of provisioning virtual machines is providing the storage that goes behind it, integrating the storage management with the virtual server environment management is critical. A snapshot management tool allows admins to momentarily pause applications to make a consistent copy without using custom scripts, relying on the vendor’s integration with commonly used applications.”

And Reichman doesn’t underestimate the value of the sheer volume of storage the PS5500E offers.

“Previously, when you expanded capacity in an EqualLogic system, you did so by adding more nodes, so you had to pay for CPU and cache in order to buy more disk,” he said. “This is good for applications where performance matters, but for archive, disk-based backup and as a second site replication target, performance is often not as critical. The denser drive node gives EqualLogic customers a way to manage everything consistently but have a product that fits in the low-cost area.”

And the greater capacity allows the SAN to play a bigger role in tiering storage, he said.

“With the ability to mix node types in a cluster, you can have a wider variety of cost/performance levels, and move data among them,” he said.

“Since the platform is highly virtualized, it is non-disruptive and simple to move data from one tier to another, and to add capacity on the fly in whatever flavour is most needed.”

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