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Dell ships cheaper entry-level all-flash storage arrays

Dell ships two entry-level all-flash storage arrays with advertised street prices of $25,000 and $35,000 to address customer concerns about cost.

Dell this week announced the general availability of two entry-level all-flash array configurations, with advertised street prices of $25,000 and $35,000, designed to address customer concerns about the high cost of enterprise-class flash storage.

Dell claimed an internal analysis showed the $25,000 advertised street price for the entry-level SC4020 is the lowest entry price for an all-flash midrange array by a major vendor. The company did the comparison against EMC, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and NetApp, according to Bob Fine, director of product management for Dell Storage.

The $25,000 single-tier SC4020, which Dell originally announced in November, has six read-intensive multilevel (MLC), SAS-based 480 GB solid-state drives (SSDs) and a total raw capacity of 2.8 TB. The new $35,000 two-tier SC4020 has six read-intensive MLC 480 GB SAS SSDs and six write-intensive single-level cell (SLC), SAS 200 GB SSDs for a total raw capacity of more than 4 TB.

Vendors lowering all-flash array starter model prices

Other vendors also have been making available lower-priced starter models of their all-flash arrays. For instance, HP announced in August its 3PAR StorServ 7200 All-Flash Starter Kit starting at an estimated street price of $35,000 for eight 480 GB consumer MLC (cMLC) SSDs. The previous month, EMC added an entry-level Starter X-Brick at 5 TB or 10 TB with its XtremIO all-flash array line but did not disclose pricing.

Price comparisons of all-flash arrays can be tricky for a variety of reasons, including differing capacities, flash types and levels of support for storage-saving and other enterprise features. For instance, HP claims to support data-reducing deduplication in all 3PAR StoreServ 7000 models, but Dell does not currently support deduplication or compression in the SC4020. Dell's Storage Center OS supports compression only on the higher-end Dell Storage SC8000, according to a Dell spokesman.

Dell's $25,000 and $35,000 price tags for the new SC4020 configurations include the license fee for Dynamic Capacity (thin provisioning), Data Instant Replay (snapshots and clones), Enterprise Manager, Dynamic Controllers and Virtual Ports. There is an additional charge for replication and data progression (auto tiering), according to the Dell spokesman.

"We're extending the capabilities that were in the SC8000 into the SC4020, bringing down the price point and making Dell storage available to more and more customers. And now we're taking that price point down even further with these two new configurations," Fine said. "What our customers have told us, and we've responded to, is their request for Dell storage technology at a lower price point."

Analysts weigh in on Dell flash storage news

"This makes sense for Dell. It gives people a chance to buy an all-flash array from Dell to fix maybe one or maybe even two applications that really [need] fixing in terms of performance. For some people, that's going to be a really nice offer," said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research.

Stammers said, "Per GB, the SC4020 is more expensive than other arrays, but the buy-in price is still very low." He noted that all-flash array vendors claiming a $2 price per GB do so with bigger configurations and often with data reduction factored into the equation.

Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass., wrote in an email that the good news for users is that a big systems vendor has now shown its intention to "not merely sit on attractive flash margins to bolster other less lucrative parts of its storage business, but to make this market segment a battleground."

He said the Dell news should drive increased competition from vendors of all sizes, both in terms of price and advanced functionality.

Dell originally made available the SC4000 Series in June in the Asia-Pacific region, where the company said the adoption rate of Fibre Channel is higher than iSCSI. Global shipments followed in August, with a minimum product configuration of 12 drives and a maximum configuration of 24 drives in a 2U chassis. The SC4020 can expand to 120 drives and up to 408 TB of raw capacity with expansion shelves.

The differences between the SC4020 configuration offered in August and the configurations released today are capacity and cost. A Dell spokesman said the August flash configurations required customers to purchase both write-intensive SLC 400 GB SAS SSDs and read-intensive MLC 1.6 TB SAS SSDs. Dell now offers both 480 GB and 1.6 TB read-intensive MLC SSDs from SanDisk and 200 GB, 400 GB and 800 GB write-intensive SLC SSDs from SanDisk and HGST. Customers also have the option of using HDDs and SSDs in a hybrid configuration.

Over time, Dell expects enterprise MLC (eMLC) or MLC to replace the more expensive SLC drives in write-intensive configurations and cMLC to replace MLC in read-intensive scenarios, according to the company spokesman. MLC drives generally feature higher capacity, lower cost per GB and roughly the same read performance as the write-intensive read SLC drives, the Dell spokesman noted.

The SC4000 Series family is based on Dell's Compellent array technology, which features automated tiering to move the hottest data to the fastest SSDs and cold data to the least expensive tiers of storage. Customers also have access to Dell's Copilot support.

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