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Dell EMC today launched operating-system upgrades for its two main midrange storage arrays, and the vendor hinted it may eventually converge the platforms.
The storage market leader added data protection and mobility features to Unity Operating Environment (OE) 4.4 and capacity and performance improvements to SC Series Operating System (SCOS) 7.3.
Dell's $60 billion-plus acquisition of EMC in 2016 left the combined vendor's new enterprise IT division with multiple Dell EMC midrange storage platforms. Dell EMC has resisted phasing out either of its two main midrange systems, the EMC Unity and Dell SC (Compellent) brands, despite calls from industry experts to consolidate its product lineup.
Both Dell EMC midrange storage product lines are sold as all-flash or hybrid arrays. The Unity line integrates block and file support on a single array. It was launched in 2016 to replace VNX and VNXe midrange appliances. SC arrays provide a lower-cost midrange alternative. Dell EMC is winding down support for its midrange P Series storage arrays, formerly known as Dell EqualLogic.
In the near term, SC and Unity will run separate operating software, although Dell EMC has hinted at plans to consolidate them on a single management platform. Foreshadowing possible consolidation is an HTML 5 management interface and remote management added to SCOS, mirroring a similar user interface in Unity OE versions.
"Product transitions like this don't happen overnight," said Sean Kinney, a Dell EMC senior director of product marketing. "There may be a next-generation platform at some point in the future, but it will be a nondisruptive migration path for all of them."
The latest Unity and SC upgrades are nondisruptive to customers, Kinney said, meaning the systems will remain available during the upgrades.
Dell EMC's two main midrange systems targeted different sets of customers, said Eric Burgener, a research vice president for storage at IT analyst firm IDC.
"The SC Series is based around the traditional dual controller, scale-up array design, while Unity is more of a web-scale design. Both products are competitive with other midmarket offerings in terms of performance, scalability, functionality and price, but the web-scale design is probably the future," allowing for more storage functionality to reside in software, Burgener said.
"The SC Series is for folks that want better value for the money and prefer the SCOS operating environment. This is important because a lot of companies have to go through an extensive requalification effort to certify a new platform," Burgener said.
A single node of the SC Series can be more powerful than a single node of Unity, he added, "but you can scale Unity more easily by just adding more Unity nodes. Unity is more about data mobility from heterogeneous storage arrays and better integration with the data center ecosystem of platforms."
Keeping both midrange appliances ensures Dell EMC retains the large SC installed base, while gradually merging the two OSes, Burgener said.
"There were more changes in the management GUI with this latest release that do just that -- the two GUIs look more alike," he added. "And both platforms now support the CloudIQ cloud-based management dashboard, which wasn't on SC before."
Unity bolsters data migration, replication and security
Dell EMC claims shipments of Unity have exceeded 1 EB of raw flash capacity since the product launched in 2016.
"We're seeing continued quarter-on-quarter adoption of flash, as [an increasing] percentage of our total storage capacity shipped with Unity and SC. As the economics of flash come more in line with traditional spinning disk, more and more customers are saying, 'Hey, I'm going to go with all-flash,'" Kinney said.
Sean Kinneysenior director of product marketing at Dell EMC
Data protection in Unity OE 4.4 includes MetroSync array-based asynchronous and synchronous replication for transactional file applications. The feature is in addition to Unity's existing block-based replication. MetroSync enables disaster recovery across long distances, using data aggregation and distribution to accelerate data recovery objectives.
Dell EMC enhanced its SAN Copy data mobility technology to let customers migrate their storage to Unity from other vendors' block arrays. The addition of two-way Network Data Management Protocol helps to boost NAS backup by eliminating the need to go through the network to reach backup servers.
Kinney said performance enhancements for Microsoft include Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol to boost searchability and security.
SC Series: Dell EMC midrange storage for 'price-sensitive' customers
SCOS 7.3 is based on re-engineered code that Dell EMC claims doubles the maximum IOPS of each SC array. The latest software boosts SC array performance by at least 100,000 IOPS on mixed workloads, Kinney said.
The SCOS update extends data-in-place upgrades to SC4020, which uses TLC NAND SSDs. The feature allows customers to migrate to newer SC array models.
Support for 25 Gigabit Ethernet and 100 Gigabit Ethernet iSCSI has been made standard on SC arrays. Distributed sparing on SC arrays can increase I/O efficiency and accelerate RAID rebuilds, Dell EMC said.
According to a report in June by analyst firm IDC, Dell EMC midrange storage increased its market share by four percentage points over second-place Hewlett Packard Enterprise in the first quarter of 2018. IDC estimated Dell EMC's first-quarter overall storage systems revenue at more than $2 billion.
Dell EMC executives said the quarter that ended in March saw its first storage market share gains since the 2016 merger. Midrange storage sales were cited as a sore spot in previous quarters.