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Dell turns EqualLogic into multiprotocol storage with clustered NAS

Dell adds Exanet file system into EqualLogic iSCSI SAN through new FS7500 appliance that turns EqualLogic into multiprotocol storage but requires adding a separate box.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dell Inc. today launched an appliance that brings clustered NAS capabilities to its EqualLogic iSCSI SAN, turning it into multiprotocol storage. The EqualLogic FS7500 uses technology that Dell acquired from Exanet in early 2010 to support file and block storage in its midrange storage platform.

The announcement came at the first Dell Storage Forum conference. The news was no surprise because Dell revealed it was working on adding Exanet’s scale-out file system to EqualLogic storage more than a year ago. It added Exanet NAS capabilities to its PowerVault SMB platform in April and its roadmap calls for adding the file system to the Compellent Fibre Channel SAN platform it acquired in February.

The EqualLogic FS7500 appliance connects to an EqualLogic PS6000 and brings customers the Exanet file system, now called the Dell Scalable File System. The FS7500 lets customers manage iSCSI and NAS from one console. It's a different approach than Dell uses for the PowerVault NX3500 that requires separate controllers and management systems for block and file access, but the FS7500 isn't as integrated as unified storage from competitors, such as NetApp’s FAS platform and the EMC VNX and VNXe systems. Customers need to buy another appliance to get NAS support with EqualLogic.

“EqualLogic now has file system capabilities built into the product,” said Brett Roscoe, Dell’s executive director of storage product management. ”What I mean by unified is a unified management console. The customer doesn't need to go to a different place to manage this product.”

The FS7500 appliances come in either one or two two-node pairs, and Dell plans to scale to support larger clusters. The initial system’s file share can scale to 510 TB of raw capacity. The appliances support automated failover and have a single namespace. Current EqualLogic customers can connect to their PS6000 systems while new customers would need to buy a PS6000 along with the FS7500.

Roscoe said Dell was attracted to Exanet technology because it had better mainstream NAS features such as snapshot, replication and quota management than other clustered file system products. The file system supports CIFS and NFS. He said the FS7500 would make EqualLogic more competitive with midrange multiprotocol storage systems such as the VNX, and future releases may allow it to scale to take on larger clustered systems such as EMC’s Isilon.

“This will address a chunk of our customers looking to do large-scale file deployments,” Roscoe said. “Do I think you’ll hit the tippy-top of high-performance computing environments? Probably not.”

Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Taneja Group, agreed with Roscoe that Exanet technology is a good fit for the mainstream.

“This is the natural thing to do,” Taneja said of adding Exanet’s NAS to EqualLogic. “Exanet has a very extensible file system. Exanet’s technology was always good. The company failed because of its marketing. It always had better IOPS than Isilon, and is probably better suited for mainstream NAS [than other clustered systems].”

Dell hasn't disclosed pricing information for the FS7500.

Dell supports better Ethernet, Fibre Channel on PowerVault

With the FS7500, Dell is upgrading the EqualLogic firmware to support Data Center Bridging (DCB) over iSCSI. DCB is designed to improve Ethernet performance by eliminating dropped packets and making it suitable for converged SAN and LAN networks. Version 5.1 of the firmware also improves EqualLogic’s load balancing and adds VMware vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI) support for thin provisioning.

Dell also added Fibre Channel (FC) support to its entry-level PowerVault MD3600 platform with the MD3600f and MD3620f models. The arrays have four 8 Gbps Fibre Channel ports per controller and can connect to 64 hosts with an FC switch.

Dell has no enhancements for the Compellent storage this week, but will demonstrate a Compellent SAN running 16 Gbps Fibre Channel with Brocade FC switches at the show. Dell executives didn't give a timeframe for adding Exanet support to Compellent storage. “We’ll see Exanet integrated across our product line,” the firm's Roscoe said.

Data deduplication for primary storage still in development

Roscoe said data reduction technology from last year’s Ocarina Networks acquisition remains a roadmap item for Dell, but he said the vendor will widely incorporate Ocarina’s compression and data deduplication for primary storage.

“We’re working on integrating it into our file system and other places,” he said. “I can’t give you dates yet, but you’ll see Ocarina technology in quite a few places over the next year. “

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