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Dell FS8600 adds unified storage for Compellent SAN

Dell FS8600 adds Fluid File System (FluidFS) device that turns the Compellent SAN into unified storage, and prepares to add primary deduplication.

Starting today, Dell Inc. is shipping the FS8600 scale-out NAS device that adds unified storage capability to its Compellent Fibre Channel (FC) SAN platform, and also began teasing the primary deduplication planned for the next version of the product.

The company announced its FS8600 at the Dell Storage Forum in June, and the appliance became generally available today. The Dell FS8600 uses the vendor's Fluid File System (FluidFS) that also brings file NAS capability to its EqualLogic SAN platform and PowerVault direct-attached storage.

FluidFS is based on the Exanet scalable NAS technology that Dell acquired in 2010, and the FS8600 uses Compellent Storage Center SAN arrays for back-end storage. The FS8600 is similar to the FS7600 with NAS capabilities that Dell has for its EqualLogic iSCSI SAN platform, but is built more for the enterprise.

The FS8600 supports eight storage controllers under a single namespace, while the FS7600 for EqualLogic supports four controllers under one namespace. Dell FS8600 customers can connect two controllers per NAS server, and cluster up to four NAS servers. Each controller supports two 10 Gigabit Ethernet links.

Dell supports 1 PB of capacity under management of one FS8600 with two Storage Center SANs behind it. According to Mike Davis, director of strategy for Dell NAS, the 1 PB can run in one file system. The FS8600 supports Compellent storage management features such as thin provisioning and Data Progression auto-tiering.

Davis said the next version of FluidFS, due next year, will incorporate primary data deduplication technology that Dell acquired when it bought Ocarina in 2010. He said the Ocarina data reduction will help distinguish Dell’s unified storage from competitors.

“We made the decision early on that it doesn’t make sense for us to just copy NetApp and EMC with our NAS stack,” Davis said. “We’re looking for ways to differentiate, and one way is with Ocarina. One of the next projects we will launch with Ocarina is this [NAS] product.”

Davis said FluidFS will go beyond NetApp’s primary dedupe because it will include compression and dedupe, and be policy based for more granularity.

“It will look and feel like our tiering capability,” he said. “We’ll give more control to the user. They can set a policy to compress data after it ages a certain amount of days. And over time we’ll add other stuff that nobody else in the industry has. We’ll apply special algorithms developed for the oil and gas or media and entertainment industry.”

The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) has purchased a Dell FS8600 to go with two new Storage Center SAN arrays. Parker Moran, systems administrator at UNCW, said the school wanted a unified system to replace three Dell-branded EMC Clariion CX3 SAN arrays and two EMC Celerra NAS gateways.

He said he looked at NetApp FAS3200 and EMC VNX7500 multiprotocol storage system, as well arrays from Hewlett-Packard and IBM, before settling on Compellent.

Moran said Compellent’s only file option was its ZFS-backed zNAS when he first tested Storage Center SANs, but zNAS had to be managed separately from the block storage.

Over the summer he got an FS8600 test unit and determined it would be a good fit for his unified storage. Unlike unified storage from NetApp, EMC and others, Dell requires management of two devices -- in this case Storage Center and the FS8600 -- for file and block storage. But Moran said the management was seamless, and can be done from one interface.

“We were leaning toward Compellent, but we needed a file complement,” he said. “We discussed buying a separate file server as a contingency, but we wanted a unified system. It wasn’t a deal-breaker but it was something we pushed real hard. We didn’t want to have two pods of storage, we wanted block and file in one place. Being able to piggy-back the 8600 on the Compellent back-end filled that need for us.”

Moran said he selected Compellent because of its management features, such as Data Progression for tiering data. His two Data Center SANs have a total of 180 TB of usable storage, and approximately 1 TB of that is solid-state drives for applications that need I/O.

“A lot of people tier storage now, but when we were looking, they did it the best,” he said. “We realized they had a different approach than other vendors.”

However, Moran said the Dell FS8600 is still missing one feature he wants but will have to wait for.

“Deduplication was a checkbox on my list of requirements,” he said. “I was taken aback when they said they didn’t have it. But when they walked me through how Data Progression works and how we can couple that with dedupe [when it becomes available], I realized we’d be getting more efficiency out of our disk drives.”

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