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Dell strikes OEM deal with Nutanix to sell hyper-converged storage

Dell's OEM deal with Nutanix will result in its selling hyper-converged software on PowerEdge servers. Dell also launched a low-end FC SAN.

Dell today revealed plans to resell Nutanix hyper-converged storage software on Dell hardware, launched an entry-level Compellent SAN array and disclosed a multi-year plan to integrate its Compellent and EqualLogic platforms.

The storage announcements came during the opening day of the Dell User Forum in Miami.

As part of an OEM deal with Nutanix, Dell executives said they will begin selling the XC Series of appliances in the fourth quarter of 2014. The appliances will run Nutanix software on Dell PowerEdge servers.

Travis Vigil, Dell's storage executive director, said there would be a "wide range" of hardware configurations but would not talk about specific models until closer to the launch. He said the target use cases for the XC appliances will be virtual desktop infrastructure, heavily virtualized applications and testing/development.

Nutanix-branded appliances include storage, servers and networking running software above the hypervisor level in one box. The storage includes hard disk drives and solid-state drives, and the software stack includes data services such as deduplication, compression, thin provisioning, cloning and snapshots. Nutanix has three software editions -- Starter, Pro and Ultimate -- with various degrees of scalability and resiliency.

The deal is non-exclusive, which means Nutanix can strike deals with other hardware vendors to sell its software and Dell can partner with Nutanix rivals for hyper-converged storage stacks. But Dell's Vigil and Nutanix's Vice President of Marketing Howard Ting said the vendors are not looking for other partners in this market.

Ting said Nutanix will continue to sell its current product line and noted that this agreement does not signal a shift to a primary OEM business model.

The XC Series will have joint sales, marketing and support, and the vendors will collaborate on the roadmap. The initial products will use the same software that runs on current Nutanix appliances.

Nutanix, which started selling its appliances in 2011, claims it had more than $100 million in revenue in its first two years on the market. It closed a $101 million funding round in January.

Arun Taneja, consulting analyst at Taneja Group, said the deal broadens Nutanix's distribution and gives Dell an enterprise product it lacked. Nutanix competes with converged platforms from larger vendors, such as the Vblocks from VCE -- an EMC and Cisco joint venture.

"This puts Nutanix in a different orbit," Taneja said. "And it gives Dell a product that it does not have in its arsenal. Dell's bread-and-butter storage product lines are EqualLogic and Compellent, and those only go so far in terms of enterprise reach. The Nutanix product takes Dell into the enterprise in a bigger way because of its scale-out factor."

The Nutanix deal comes after Dell has spent several years severing ties to storage partners, most notably EMC storage arrays and CommVault backup software, to concentrate on selling its own technology. But Nutanix gives Dell access to a leading product in an emerging technology.

Dell sells PowerEdge VRTX systems that include server, storage and networking in one chassis, but the firm's Vigil said VRTX is designed for remote offices while Nutanix is built for enterprise storage for heavily virtualized environments.

Dell adds Fibre Channel on the low end

The Dell Storage SC4000 series is Dell's first Fibre Channel (FC) array in the sub-$50,000 price range, although it isn't brand new. Dell has been selling the SC4020 in Asia since March, but it will not be available in North America until August. The SC4020 is a scaled-down version of the Compellent SC8000 enterprise array.

The SC4020 is a 2U system with dual controllers, 24 drive bays and 32 GB of memory. It scales to 400 terabytes of raw capacity and uses Intel Xeon processors. By comparison, the 6U SC8000 holds 96 drives with up to 128 GB of memory and uses Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs.

The SC4020 runs the same software as the SC8000 and supports single-level cell and multi-level cell flash in the same way as the larger Compellent system. It also supports iSCSI and can run network-attached storage through the FS SC8600 Fluid File System appliance built for the SC8000.

Dell's current entry-level SAN platform consists of EqualLogic iSCSI arrays, which do not support FC.

Taneja pointed out that while the SC4020 gives Dell an entry-level FC SAN, it does not fill its biggest storage gap -- a true enterprise system. "This doesn't change the fact that Compellent lacks a very high-end product," he said.

Can Compellent and EqualLogic converge?

The SC4020 is the first system sold under the Dell Storage brand, which Vigil said will be used for all its new storage products instead of the Compellent or EqualLogic names. That is the first step in collapsing the platforms. The next step will be to allow Compellent and EqualLogic systems to replicate data between them, something Dell customers have been asking for since Dell acquired Compellent in 2011.

Vigil said the next step would be common management for the two platforms. He would not give any timeframes for any of the steps beyond branding, but said Dell has already combined the Compellent and EqualLogic engineering teams.

"This is a multi-year vision," he said. "The goal is to get to a common platform. That will accelerate our rate of innovation."

Next Steps

Learn more about the current state of hyper-convergence

Nutanix raises $101 million in funding

How hyper-converged storage is affecting IT skills sets

Dig Deeper on Server-based storage

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