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Dell closes Compellent, opens new storage era

When Dell closed its $800 million acquisition of Compellent Tuesday, it also closed the books on a year of deals that will transform Dell’s storage portfolio.

Dell first said it wanted to buy Compellent last December. Before that, it made two smaller 2010 acquisitions that could enhance its overall storage product line. It bought the IP of scale-out NAS vendor Exanet and acquired data reduction startup Ocarina Networks. Dell also tried to buy 3PAR but was outbid by Hewlett-Packard several months before it grabbed Compellent instead. In another storage move, Dell launched a DX object-based storage platform in 2010.

A Dell spokesman said the vendor will have more details about its overall storage strategy next month, but it appears that Compellent will bring Dell into its post-EMC era. Or as Dell executives like to say, its storage business has gone from being mostly a reseller of storage to becoming a full provider of storage technology.

Dell lists the Compellent Series 40 as its multiprotocol storage system for enterprise applications with EqualLogic as its scalable Ethernet storage and PowerVault as the entry level DAS and iSCSI SAN choice. Of course, EMC Clariion has filled the multiprotocol SAN role for Dell for close to a decade.  Dell will not OEM and may not even resell the EMC VNX that will replace the Clariion, and definitely will not sell the EMC VNXe SMB system that competes with EqualLogic and PowerVault.

A slide attached to Dell executive Rob Williams’ blog posted yesterday lists Compellent as Dell’s high end block storage offering with EMC’s CX4 and the EqualLogic PS Series as midrange SAN products, and PowerVault as the entry level system. That’s odd positioning because Compellent has always been characterized as a midrange system – actually, more towards the lower end of the midrange.

Williams did shed some light on Dell’s storage strategy in his blog:

“Together with Dell EqualLogic, PowerVault and Compellent, our block and file storage offerings now span every layer from low- to mid-range offerings for SMBs and Public institutions to higher-end enterprise ready offerings for large corporations and organizations. 

Last year, we also acquired two more storage assets that bring with them important IP. Exanet provides Dell with scale-out file storage capabilities, and moves us for the first time beyond the arena of mid-range block storage and into the playing field of mid-range file storage.  We hope to launch our first Exanet NAS product early this summer.  The second is Ocarina, which gives us content-aware file deduplication capabilities that we plan to add across our entire storage portfolio over time.”

There may be more to come. When they first spoke about buying Compellent in December, Dell executives said they may look to add data management features though an acquisition.  All of this makes Dell worth watching through 2011.


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