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Dell data storage plans pique customer interest

Dave Raffo

Dell data storage customers -- including those from newly acquired Compellent -- said they are interested in the primary data

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reduction features the vendor is adding as well as ways to integrate management of Compellent and EqualLogic storage systems. But they're taking a wait-and-see approach to the big plans Dell is talking up for its data storage.

“We’re the hottest new storage company out there,” CEO Michael Dell pronounced at the Dell Storage Forum last week. It was the first wide-scale storage user show for Dell, which also added scalable NAS technology from Exanet and primary data reduction from Ocarina in 2010. Its first major step into developing its own storage came with the acquisition of iSCSI SAN vendor EqualLogic in 2008.

Dell announced the addition of Exanet scalable NAS to EqualLogic iSCSI storage at the show. It also repeated its plans to extend the Exanet technology to Compellent and to add Ocarina compression and deduplication across its storage platforms.

Phil Soran, former Compellent CEO and now president of Dell Compellent, revealed roadmap features at the show without giving specific timeframes. He said Compellent is preparing a 64-bit version of its Storage Center software, more solid-state drives (SSDs) on the front end, the ability to use the cloud as a storage tier, as well as the Exanet NAS and Ocarina deduplication integration.

Dan Marbes, systems engineer at Associated Bank in Green Bay, Wisc., said he’s looking forward to the 64-bit Storage Center for its larger medadata, page size and memory caching options. “It’s the next major evolution,” he said. “Low I/O bulk storage may not need it, but OLTP sequential databases will want more performance and caching.”

If they can get [Ocarina technology] working so it really provides block-level savings on the Compellent arrays, that would be fantastic.

Dan Marbes, systems engineer, Associated Bank

Marbes said he also considers primary deduplication a valuable feature. “If they can get that working so it really provides block-level savings on the Compellent arrays, that would be fantastic,” he said.

He said he's curious to see how Compellent fits in the Exanet NAS with the two NAS options it already offers, a ZFS-based NAS and Windows-based NAS. He said Associated Bank isn't using NAS now.

Associated Bank passed on EqualLogic in favor of Compellent in 2006, but Marbes said he could see adding smaller iSCSI SANs at remote offices for disaster recovery if there were common management between them and the Compellent systems in the data center.

“If we can present EqualLogic arrays as the remote iSCSI target for Compellent and have data center copies for all of that, it can help our remote high-availability design,” he said. “If the site goes dark, I can very quickly re-provision hardware and get users back online before they’re actually relocated at a secondary building instead of trying to restore all of that off a backup solution, which is going to take hours.

“If I have the ability to manage all of that storage from [Compellent’s] Enterprise Manager," Marbes added, "that extends the single pane-of-glass management interface and really makes a lot of sense.”

Pete Koehler, senior systems administrator at Bellevue, Wash.-based Tecplot Inc. , who has been an EqualLogic customer since 2009, said he's unlikely to add Compellent Fibre Channel storage even if it's all under the Dell banner.

“Our investment in EqualLogic has suited us well and we’ll keep looking at that as our storage needs grow,” Koehler said.

Tecplot, which develops data visualization software for engineers, has no NAS now, but Koehler said he might take a look at the EqualLogic FS7500 with the Exanet file system. First he wants to know more about how the appliance works with his EqualLogic SAN arrays.

“I see an opportunity there, but I still need to know more about how they’re going to make it fit,” he said. “I’d like something that gives me cross-platform access and makes it easy to spin up a NAS share that's accessible from different operating systems.”

Koehler also said he's interested in primary deduplication. “Storage capacity is always an issue with us,” he said.

Compellent customers watch integration closely

While EqualLogic customers have had a few years to get used to the Dell acquisition, Compellent shops are still concerned with integration issues.

“We’ll see how the companies meld and do the integration,” said Kory Kitowski, infrastructure design manager at Associated Bank. “We built a solid relationship with Compellent, and that’s as important as its technology.”

Associated Bank has more than 900 TB of Compellent storage, but recently added some Hewlett-Packard P2000 storage for branch offices; it also uses HP servers. Kitowski said he will weigh the benefits of staying with multiple vendors or going with one vendor for all the bank's storage and networking.

“From an overall spending and discounting perspective, you gain benefits if you have all your eggs in one basket, but you have more problems if you drop the basket,” he said. “It’s an interesting model now with Dell; we have to see if there are opportunities for us to leverage other Dell storage. We’re using Compellent in the data center and until now we didn’t have a good opportunity to use it in our remote branches. If there's a system small enough at the right price point, we might have other options now.”


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