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Following Dell acquisitions, users find platform integration enticing

Customers want to see the storage products Dell has gained through acquisitions better integrated with common management.

Customers at Dell Enterprise Forum last week urged the vendor to accelerate its integration of technologies and products gathered through a spate of Dell acquisitions over the past few years.

Several customers said they were more interested in Dell's integration plans than in new technology advances, such as all-flash Compellent arrays and the upcoming Fluid Cache for SAN flash-caching product.

Dell storage customers have clamored for integration between its Compellent and EqualLogic arrays since the 2011 Compellent acquisition. That integration has been difficult, but Dell executives assured customers at the Enterprise Forum that replication and common management are coming, although no timeline was given.

The vendor has slowly integrated other storage technologies gained through acquisitions Dell has made. The Dell Fluid File System (FluidFS) network-attached storage products for Compellent and EqualLogic based on Dell’s Exanet scale-out NAS acquisition are shipping, and last week Dell said it would deliver primary data reduction for those NAS devices later this year. The primary deduplication and compression come from Dell's 2010 Ocarina pickup.

"I heard them talking about 300,000 IOPS for the flash array and thought, 'Who would need that?'" said Trina Gizel, executive director of global infrastructure at WMS Gaming. "We have 12,000 IOPS for our tier-one Oracle database, and it's as fast as we need it. Maybe down the road [we'll look at it]." The same goes for the Fluid Cache for SAN that Dell is working on, she said. "We don't have an application that needs that speed right now," she added.

Gizel does need better integration between Compellent and EqualLogic, as well as Dell support overall. WMS Gaming has 1.2 petabytes (PB) of raw capacity, most of it on Dell storage. It has 17 EqualLogic arrays in sites throughout the world. Last October it installed an iSCSI Compellent system in a new data center following a bake-off with Hewlett-Packard 3PAR, NetApp FAS and EMC VNX.

"I liked hearing that they're working on getting the roadmaps for Compellent and EqualLogic together," Gizel said. "Since Day 1 I've been asking for a roadmap to tie together EqualLogic and Compellent. They're both iSCSI. We have a single pane of glass for our EqualLogic arrays and Enterprise Manager for Compellent, but they're not tied together at all."

Gizel said she would like that convergence to go beyond Dell's SAN arrays. "We own a lot of the Dell stack, and a lot of it is from Dell acquisitions," she said. "We like Force10 [switching] support, but we're still going to call Dell, and we don't want you to transfer us over to your storage people or transfer us to your switch people -- it all has to work together. I'm interested in how their support can coalesce."

WMS Gaming had problems getting its EqualLogic FS7600 NAS appliance to work with its EqualLogic SAN and Force10 switching, Gizel said. All the products involved were from Dell, but "as soon as we put it in, we had performance problems. We could get really deep on the storage side, really deep on the switch side and really deep on the NAS side with support, but there was no single team that knew all of the components," she said. "I want to see that jell. If you're going to supply the stack, I want to see people who understand how it all works together."

WMS Gaming took the NAS box out of production after four days, Gizel said, when Dell support wasn't sure of the root of the problem.

Compellent customer Cody Bumgardner, chief technology architect at the University of Kentucky, said he was sold on Dell storage, based on a roadmap discussion he had with representatives two years ago. He said Dell has lived up to its promises in integrating technology from clustered NAS Exanet (the basis of FluidFS) and primary data reduction from Ocarina, which will show up in shipping product later this year.

"We said we wanted tiering, deduplication, CIFS and NFS, and a way to distribute out that storage," Bumgardner said. "Dell had purchased Exanet; they said, 'Here's our Fluid strategy.' They had Ocarina. They pulled back the curtains, and we knew where they were going with the FluidFS and how we could take advantage. FluidFS version 3 [launched last week] includes a lot of things we originally wanted. Everything hasn't made it in yet, but they made good on what they said they would do two years ago.

"For the most part, the things they said they would deliver in the unified system have made it in there," Bumgardner continued. "I know there's talk of them providing more standardization of product lines. But when we talked to them two years ago, it was a five- or six-year timeline, so I'm surprised some of that already made it in."

As for flash, Bumgardner said he has used flash inside his Compellent array alongside hard drives, but currently uses his array for virtual machines and doesn't require all flash.

Bumgardner would also like to see Dell standardize support, based on Compellent's Co-Pilot, he said. Dell is bringing features from Compellent's support into EqualLogic, although it won't be an exact match. "Doing Co-Pilot with the rest of its systems would be smart," he said.

Jennifer Torlone, senior director of technology and information services for Amerijet International, is interested in integration between platforms because she uses EqualLogic as a backup target for Compellent, she said. However, she was most impressed with Dell's new PowerEdge VRTX integrated system that combines servers, switching and storage into one box for remote offices. "I already reserved the one on the demo floor, and I'm taking it home with me," she said, presumably joking.

WMS Gaming's Gizel said she's also interested in VRTX but wants to know more about how it works with her current backup. "We do have a small office problem, and that would fix it," she said of VRTX. "Our problem is backing up the data. I don't want to add another appliance to back up my data."

The University of Kentucky's Bumgardner recently compiled his own, similar system using Dell servers, Force10 switches and Compellent, but the VRTX "makes a lot of sense," he said. He would consider it down the road as DAS for applications such as Microsoft Exchange or SQL, he said.

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