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Dell EMC cloud storage hardware shines light on cloud

VMware plays a larger role in the Dell EMC storage ecosystem as the vendor rolls out new cloud services to challenge archrival NetApp's cloud storage portfolio.

LAS VEGAS -- Dell made cloud the primary theme during its annual user conference this week, even when launching new and enhanced Dell EMC storage hardware.

More so than in previous years, the theme of a Dell EMC cloud received the bulk of attention in Dell Technologies World keynotes, media sessions and user panels. Dell executives spent a lot of time explaining a strategy to tie disparate storage systems as the foundation for cloud infrastructure.

"There is a tsunami of data coming our way," said Jeff Clarke, Dell's vice chairman of products and operations. "The debate is long over on whether to use public vs. private. You need to use both and be able to efficiently move your data from the core to the edge to multiple clouds."

The Unity midrange storage platform dominated primary storage news at the show, but Dell EMC also enhanced other primary storage platforms. The vendor previewed capacity and performance enhancements to Isilon NAS systems and said it would package Intel Optane storage class memory SSDs in a coming upgrade to its flagship PowerMax SAN. The vendor also expanded its partnership with Nvidia, launching a new PowerEdge server to serve as a DevOps cloud for AI and containers.

The VMware factor

But cloud loomed over many storage discussions at the show. Dell EMC gives VMware virtualization a more prominent role across its product ecosystem -- including storage -- than EMC did before the 2016 Dell-EMC acquisition. That transaction transferred majority ownership of VMware from EMC to Dell.

Dell EMC used the show to introduce new ways of running Dell EMC cloud storage, betting customers will welcome the option to use VMware as a centralized management layer.

Mike Crones, CIO at Draper Laboratory in Boston, said he was happy to hear he could lease Dell EMC Unity capacity as a VMware-managed cloud. Draper, a research and engineering nonprofit that specializes in defense projects, runs Unity midrange storage on premises, mostly because contracts preclude the use of a public cloud, Crones said.

VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Unity "is one of the things we need to go home and talk about. Some of those pieces really resonated with us," Crones said.

Eric Burgener, research vice president of storage at analyst firm IDC, said Dell took steps to counter rival NetApp's integrated Data Fabric cloud technologies and fine-tune its cloud message.

"Every vendor has a cloud strategy, but one huge difference Dell now has is that it owns the VMware layer. Other vendors can only OEM it, and they can't do the integration between other components in the stack like Dell EMC can. We'll have to see if they can do it in practice, but Dell says this strategy gives them a way to differentiate from NetApp," Burgener said.

The Dell EMC cloud emphasis also includes closer integration of Boomi, Pivotal Software, RSA Security and SecureWorks, all technologies that either Dell or EMC previously owned. "There were a lot of Dell EMC executives talking about the changes that were made to enable these groups to collaborate better. That's another point of differentiation for Dell," Burgener said.

Massive Isilon clusters

Dell EMC added a hybrid Isilon NAS appliance in an OneFS file system upgrade. The changes give enterprises the ability to cluster up to 252 Isilon nodes and 58 petabytes of storage within a single file system.

Enterprise customers have to cope with a "massive deluge of unstructured data" associated with AI at the core, edge and disparate clouds, said Sam Grocott, a senior vice president in charge of Dell's infrastructure solutions group.

Isilon CloudPools technology enables customers to tier data to multiple hybrid clouds, including AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure. The expanded Dell EMC Isilon platform also adds support for Alibaba Cloud public cloud storage.

Dell inherited Isilon file storage when it acquired EMC. Initially designed as a family of disk appliances, Dell EMC Isilon added all-flash models in 2017.

"There's a ton of file data out there. File data used to be where you put something in case you needed it for compliance or something like that. Now, companies are taking their file data and running AI on all of it. Those workloads are suited to take advantage of software-defined storage and all-flash, which is what the Dell EMC Isilon is all about," said Scott Sinclair, a storage analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, an IT analyst firm in Milford, Mass.

The University of Pittsburgh's athletic department runs three Isilon clusters built from previous generations of the NAS. The school first implemented Isilon as an EMC customer. Data has been growing at about a 65% clip in recent years, said Seth Graham, assistant athletic director of information technology. Data growth includes historical video archives of University of Pittsburgh sports figures.

"One of the reasons I came to Dell Tech World was to learn," Graham said. "Obviously, price is going to be a factor, but if given the opportunity, I would definitely take advantage" of the higher capacity Isilon.

Dell-Intel PowerMax partnership

For enterprises running server-based storage clouds, Dell unveiled the PowerEdge DSS 8440 server with extreme compute. Dell said the DSS 8440 system takes 10 high-performance Nvidia V100 Tensor Core GPUs to power AI inferencing for machine learning.

Dell revamped its flagship PowerMax SAN with NVMe support last year. A new PowerMax model will ship this year, Clarke said, that incorporates dual-ported Intel Optane storage class memory drives as a tier of persistent storage.

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