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Dell array has nice surprise: VMware snapshot manager

New EqualLogic iSCSI storage array packs three times the amount of disk as Dell's previous high-end SAN. The array also includes Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware Edition, for automated replication and failover in VMware environments.

Dell today unveiled an EqualLogic PS Series storage array that packs three times the amount of disk as its previous highest-capacity array. The PS5500E array includes a VMware Auto-Snapshot Manager, but lacks features that are becoming common on iSCSI and Fibre Channel SANs, such as drive spin-down, data deduplication, solid state drives and support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE).

Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware Edition joins the Auto-Snapshot Manager/Microsoft Edition that EqualLogic brought out last year before being acquired by Dell. These Auto-Snapshot products (both are included on the array) place a software agent on the physical server, and provide visibility into the snapshot schedule and backup job status associated with applications through the server interface. EqualLogic's snapshots will allow granular recovery of single files, volumes or guest machines.

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Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware Edition is part of EqualLogic's array software and is integrated with VMware's Site Recovery Manager for automated replication and failover in VMware environments.

This feature appears to be a pleasant surprise to customers, who said they'd been briefed about the roadmap for EqualLogic disk arrays over the last few years but didn't know Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware was coming. "I see us using this immediately, if not sooner," said Jack Valko, senior director of IT operations for uses Symantec Corp.'s NetBackup to back up virtual machines, but is running an older version of the software that can't recover individual files and guests. "What appeals to me about doing this through EqualLogic," Valko said, "is that I already have all the pieces in place today – the hardware, the software with all the features licensed, and one management console."

The PS5500E array – codenamed "Sumo"— scales from 24 TB to 48 TB and supports 1 TB SATA disks. The PS5500E can serve as secondary storage and a replication target for disaster recovery, according to John Joseph, Dell/EqualLogic VP of marketing. The PS5500E will also allow channel partners to provide customers a target for hosted backup or disaster recovery services, he said. The array is available immediately for a starting list price of $78,000.

"It's probably been in the works two years," said David Stevens, storage manager for Carnegie-Mellon University, who said he was briefed on it "quite a while ago." He said he's contemplating adding the array to his backup environment, which uses direct attached storage (DAS) for disk caching on an Atempo TimeNavigator media server.

Stevens was also considering taking advantage of Dell/EqualLogic's recently announced partnership with Vizioncore for chargeback and monitoring of virtual machine storage on the EqualLogic SAN. "iSCSI arrays don't have all the intelligence that has been built into Fibre Channel that reporting tools like to focus on," he said. Stevens is also evaluating Akorri's cross-domain reporting tool.

10GigE, dedupe, solid state on roadmap

At least one EqualLogic customer says 10 GbE is high on his wish list, especially for the larger array. "When my admin saw the PS5500, his first question was, 'Does it have 10 Gig?'" Valko said. "It's probably going to need it, especially if you have all 48 drives spinning." A Dell spokesperson emailed that customers can "expect news on 10 GbE support across all EqualLogic products in 2009." Valko says he'd also like to see solid-state drives, which EMC already offers in storage systems.

Stevens said he's still waiting for multi-site replication with the arrays, which currently support two-way replication. "We have a campus in the Middle East we'd like to replicate to the Pittsburgh data center and to a local location in Qatar," he said.

Other popular technologies, such as drive spin-down and data deduplication, are nowhere to be found in this release, but Joseph said they are all on the Dell array roadmap. "Date and details are forthcoming" on SSDs, spin-down and dedupe, he said.

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