Dell ups storage ante with software that improves the economics of flash

Storage has ceased to be just about buying faster, bigger boxes to meet performance and capacity requirements, and this is typified by Dell Enterprise’s latest offering in the segment, which is all software.

Dell Storage announced an update to its Dell Storage Center Operating System 7, free to customers on maintenance with the company, said GM and vice president Alan Atkinson in a telephone interview with IT World Canada. The new software delivers on a promise the company made several years ago to unite management for its Equallogic and Compellent product lines, while addressing the requirements of storage infrastructure for the cloud, including Quality of Service features (QoS).

Dell Storage GM and VP Alan Atkinson
Dell Storage GM and VP Alan Atkinson

Atkinson cited data reduction as a key benefit in the latest release, which ramps of intelligent compression an deduplication, not just for flash arrays, but also for primary spinning disk, a function which has traditionally been reserved for backups. Dell claims its patented Intelligent Deduplication and enhanced Intelligent Block-Level Compression can provide up to 10:1 capacity savings, which helps reduce the cost of both flash and disk tiers.

In addition to being “fully tunable,” Atkinson said, the software supports mixing and matching hardware in the same cluster to get additional performance and failover / recovery scenarios, as well as scale up storage. “Everything is programmable through a restful API.”

Within a cluster of storage, SCOS 7 also supports live data migration, said Atkinson, but he also sees the QoS capabilities as becoming more critical as customers look to support cloud initiatives. “Sometime in the next couple of years, this is going to become a table stakes feature.” It also supports multi-tenancy, he added, which makes sure neighbors don’t affect each other within an array.

Storage, said Atkinson, is becoming more about software, but flash is still a source of innovation as well. “Flash has introduced a whole bunch of opportunities that weren’t there before.” Compute and storage are also converging, as storage is being moved into servers and powered by a software layer, which works well for Dell, he said, as it sells lots of servers.

Despite flash being more economical, Atkinson doesn’t see spinning disking disk disappearing any time soon. “For the next five years, disks are still going to be platform of choice for capacity storage,” adding that deduplication features will be breath new life into the older technology from a capacity point of view. Most of the time, he said, enterprises are moving to flash for performance reasons, although as densities increase and prices go down, there are other benefits that support “the incredible shrinking data centre,” such as lower power and less cooling requirements.

While the software update does address bring together Dell’s storage products from a management perspective, Atkinson said it’s premature to talk about how EMC’s storage line would fit in.

Laura DuBois, group vice president for IDC’s Enterprise Storage, Server and System Infrastructure Software research, said deduplication and compression are must-have capabilities for any storage vendors. “The benefits here are in making flash more economical.” In an email interview with IT World Canada, she noted that Dell is touting it can get $0.45/GB for flash, $0.10/GB for HDD, “which is fantastic.”

Enterprises typically have to choose between deduplication and compression, she said, but with Dell, it’s not one or the other. “You can leverage both – deduplication first and then compress to get further efficiency.” The other new feature that’s notable in SCOS 7 is it supports replication across dissimilar storage systems, DuBois added. Overall, the new software means there is less data and less storage to manage, she said, with the biggest efficiency being an economic one as it reduces capital costs.

One of the main growth areas in the enterprise storage market is the hyper-converged infrastructure segment, which DuBois said is growing in the triple digits, driven by a desire to reduce costs, reduce complexity and improve efficiency and density.

She said enterprises are able to reduce storage overprovisioning thanks to innovation in software through things such as thin provisioning and thin snapshots. What Dell is offering, of course, is storage management across its platforms only, Dubois said, noting that heterogeneous storage management is a market that has never really taken off.

There are companies that are attempting to provide vendor-agnostic storage provisioning. Primary Data, for example, is addressing complexity and system sprawl not by managing the data itself, but managing meta data. It virtualizes data and puts it in the right type of storage based on its attributes and use case.

In the meantime, customers have come to expect the same features in hybrid-flash arrays and all-flash arrays that have been available for spinning disk systems for years. IDC research released in early 2015 that found flash-based platforms are increasingly delivering enterprise-class data services, including snapshots, clones, encryption, replication, and quality QoS as well as storage efficiency features.

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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