Compellent CEO ponders deduplication, SAS

Compellent CEO Phil Soran discusses how the IPO helped the SAN maker in 2007 and what his company's plans are in 2008 for data deduplication, NAS and iSCSI.

While completing its IPO was the big news for SAN vendor Compellent Technologies Inc. in 2007, the storage system vendor also added a network attached storage (NAS) product and software to make it easier to provision boot disks on the SAN.

With the IPO behind it, we expect more product enhancements from Compellent in 2008. SearchStorage.com recently spoke to Compellent CEO Phil Soran about where the company is headed as it competes against storage giants such as EMC, NetApp, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Inc.

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What has the IPO meant to Compellent?

Phil Soran: The IPO brings real validation to the company. There are a lot of choices in the market, customers want to make sure they'll have something that that has long-term viability. For somebody starting up, that's something they have to overcome. The question we heard most frequently from customers in the past was, "Your technology is ahead of everybody else, but are you going to be around, or will you get bought or go out of business?" Going public takes that off the table and enables them to look at our architecture without worrying if we'll be around.

Give an example of Compellent's innovation.

Soran: Our architecture is based on a dynamic block architecture. It's how we employ virtualization of storage, how we do automated tiered storage on a block level and how we have built-in storage features like thin provisioning, boot from SANs and continuous snapshotting. Ninety-eight percent of our customers spend less than three hours a week working on their SAN, yet they have replication, virtualization, boot from SAN, etc.

Are you seeing a lot of interest or implementation of storage virtualization?

Soran: The virtual data center is a big item, and it's not a trend or fad, it's real. Ninety-eight percent of our customers have some sort of virtualization. Because we can manage data inside the volume, we get more efficient thin provisioning. We do automated tiered storage -- a single filer volume that spans different RAID levels and moves data based on use characteristics.

What types of products or updates can we expect in 2008?

Soran:: No. 1 will be the continued leverage of our dynamic block architecture. We built it to be flexible and scalable, and want to keep it like that. We want to make it easier to classify data. Storage magazine did an article, What's not so hot in 2008? Automatic storage tiering was on the list. To quote from the article, "The hard part is data classification."

Eighty-nine percent of data is inactive. Because we manage data inside the volume, we know what 89% you're not using -- it's data not accessed for 30 days -- and we move it to a lower class of storage. The analogy is like managing a building at the building level. If somebody turns the lights on, the lights go on in every room; turn the heat up and it goes on at every floor. We manage at the office level, so if somebody turns the lights on, it's just their office, or if they turn the heat up, it's only on their office or floor.

What about on the system side? You added NAS by integrating Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 under the Compellent brand. But do you plan to offer native NAS?

Soran:: By adding a NAS appliance on the front end, it opened up an additional market space. Now we have file- and block-level services, and we're doing automated tiered storage and IP-based replication. You can use our NAS server to boot from a SAN, and our NAS customers can use our back end for file-based and block storage.

So you don't plan to add native NAS?

Soran: Right now we feel good about what we have there.

What about SAS drives?

Soran: We will support SAS. We're making sure it's ready for enterprise accounts. We've not announced shipment as of yet.

Will you have RAID 6 for SATA?

Soran:: Keep your eyes open for some of the things we're doing with RAID. We have ways of getting higher performance and more economic ways of having less wasted storage.

You like to keep up with the hot technologies. Do you have plans for data deduplication?

Soran: We have the beginnings of data deduplication in our storage systems. We call it thin replication; we'll send over delta changes. If a block changes multiple times, we only send one change. It's already finding its way into our systems, and we see room for improvement. Also with NAS we have single-instance storage.

You talk about your architecture making Compellent's Storage Center systems just as viable for large enterprises as the midrange. Will you make more of a push into the high end?

Soran: Our initial marketing strategy was to go after the midsize enterprise account. We've done well there, but we're moving significantly into enterprise accounts because our feature functionality and scalability is there. We're spanning up from midmarket to enterprise. We targeted midmarket first because it's easy to get a large install base there.

How far can you go into the enterprise? Will you have to change your architecture to support more than two controllers or support mainframes to get the highest-end customers?

Soran:: We built enterprise class functionality in from day one. Redundancy, high availability, we have that built in. The one thing we have not done on the enterprise level is support mainframes. The large data growth is in open systems, even in enterprise accounts."

A lot of storage vendors are going after SMBs. Will you go there too?

Soran: We'll do a little of both (scale up and down), but the keyword for us is enterprise. We have one product that can scale from a couple hundred gigs to hundreds of terabytes with the same system. We're fully redundant; we do replication and a have a mixture of iSCSI and Fibre Channel, all with the same components and parts.

How many of your customers are using iSCSI?

Soran:: We let customers mix and match those protocols, you don't have to pick one. I would estimate 40% to 50% are using both right now, but another 20% to 25% are all iSCSI, and about 30% are all Fibre Channel.

What are your plans for Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)?

Soran: It's not really out there yet. If you do it right, you can be technology-agnostic. We can do iSCSI and Fibre Channel from a single server, one being a primary server and one being a failover server. We'll do the same with Fibre Channel over Ethernet. We'll add it as another protocol to support. We're keeping close tabs on it.

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