Dell's 12G Servers, New Storage Arrays: What's The Endgame?

Dell Monday unveiled server and storage technologies that, combined with its networking hardware and new data protection software, could make it a solid challenger to Hewlett-Packard and Cisco in the converged infrastructure market.

Dell introduced its 12th generation (12G) server architecture, focused on ease of deployment and management in virtualized environments, and a PCIe-based Flash cache solution for high-speed performance.

Dell also introduced EqualLogic PS Series storage arrays featuring 10-Gbit Ethernet performance, iSCSI over Data Center Bridging, and new management capabilities in Microsoft and Linux environments.

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The new server and storage hardware introductions come only a couple of days after Dell unveiled its acquisition of AppAssure, a developer of data protection software for physical and virtual server and cloud environments.

The new server and storage hardware, in combination with Dell's acquisitions in storage hardware, software and networking, gives Dell an opportunity to be a key player in the converged infrastructure market, said Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul-based solution provider and Dell partner.

"When you start thinking about what Dell has done, and look at their incredible intellectual property, you see exciting things starting to happen," Clifford said.

That includes putting Dell's new 12G servers in front of its Compellent storage arrays, connecting them to the cloud with its Boomi technology, and adding its new data protection software, Clifford said.

"You can pull data all the way through to the cloud, " said Clifford. "That integration hasn't happened yet. But Dell is moving in that direction."

Dell's 12G servers provide a new level of performance and manageability, especially in virtualized environments, said Brian Payne, Dell's executive director of server solutions, touting new servers based on Intel's upcoming E5 Sandy Bridge processor. Payne said Dell is declining to provide performance information about its E5-based servers until Intel releases the new processors.

Three of the new 12G models target workload capacity and scalability: the PowerEdge R820, which fits four Sandy Bridge processor sockets in a 2U space for database and similar workloads; the PowerEdge R720xd, optimized for collaboration with configurations including up to 26 hard drives; and the PowerEdge C6220 for high-performance clustering, according to Payne.

Dell also unveiled three models targeting low-power consumption and high efficiency in virtualized environments, as well as a new server designed specifically for small business and remote office environments.

New to the 12G server line as well are some technologies taken from Dell's Compellent Fluid Data architecture, Payne said. These include Express Cache, a PCIe Flash device that plugs into the server to maximize application performance. It provides a total throughput of more than 750,000 I/Os per second and can be accessed from the front of the server without the need to power it down for servicing, he said. Also new is Cachecade, a RAID controller technology that automatically controls which operations go to SSD or hard drive to support up to 28 times faster queries while supporting three times more users on Oracle Database 11g than previous Dell servers.

Dell also supports the Compellent storage auto-tiering capabilities for improved performance when tied to Compellent storage, he said.

Kevin Noreen, director of server solutions for Dell, revealed a number of system management innovations to the new servers.

Dell's second-generation iDRAC7 management solutions will provide remote access control for management of the entire server life cycle without the need for software agents, Noreen said. iDRAC7 includes OpenManage Essentials, an easy-to-install and maintain unified management console for monitoring the health of Dell servers, Dell EqualLogic storage and Dell PowerConnect networking. Noreen said monitoring of Dell Compellent storage is planned for the near future.

iDRAC7 integrates with Dell's KACE IT management solutions, enabling KACE to do realtime monitoring of the server, storage and networking environment for the first time, he said.

Dell also is adding new intelligence to its servers, a move it started three years ago, Noreen said. This includes the ability to deploy new servers with more than 80 percent less administrative and manual time than before.

In addition, the new servers provide an agentless way to automatically update their firmware and BIOS in VMware, Windows and Linux environments, with customers able to apply updates either immediately or schedule them during specified times.

Dell's 12G servers also provide agent-free monitoring and can automatically restore a particular motherboard's configuration to a second motherboard if the first has a problem.

Payne noted that the 12G servers include the industry's first 96 percent efficient power supplies that allow servers to use as little power as a nightlight, as well as Dell's OpenManage Power Center, software that can measure 11G and 12G server power usage and automatically manage 12G server power consumption.

The Select Network Adaptor, meanwhile, will allow customers to offer either Gbit Ethernet or 10-GbE connectivity featuring their choice of Broadcom, Intel or QLogic technology, said Payne. "Customers can make the migration to their choice of connectivity on their terms by changing out the adapter," he said.

NEXT: What's New In Dell Storage

On the storage side, Dell Monday unveiled the EqualLogic PS Series storage arrays featuring 10-Gbit Ethernet for increased performance along with new increased capacity points that together improve performance for applications and workloads by up to 69 percent over the previous generations of the line.

Travis Vigil, executive director for Dell EqualLogic, said the new arrays are the industry's first to include an end-to-end iSCSI over Data Center Bridging solution, enabling them to offer affordable, enterprise-class storage with the reliability and performance typically associated with traditional Fibre Channel arrays.

"We really see this as an inflection point in iSCSI," Vigil said. "A lot of people see Data Center Bridging as a driver for FCoE [Fibre Channel over Ethernet]. We have FCoE in our Compellent storage line. But Dell recognizes the importance of FCoE for iSCSI."

The Dell EqualLogic PS6110 series of midsize business storage for multiple physical or virtual servers can be optimized for density with up to 69 percent more SATA capacity or 350 percent more SAS capacity than in the past, or for performance, with up to 24 high-speed SAS drives per 2U of rack space, Vigil said.

A new controller, and the increased use of high-performance disks, increases performance of the PS6110 by nearly 70 percent over previous models, while the addition of 10-GbE provides twice the performance with only half the ports of previous Gbit Ethernet ports, he said.

Dell is also including for the first time the ability to configure the PS6110 with both optical and copper 10GbE networking for flexibility, Vigil said.

The EqualLogic PS4110 series arrays have the same features of the PS6110 but with a maximum capacity of 36 TB in a single array vs. the 72-TB maximum of the PS6110.

New management and integration tools for Microsoft, VMware and Linux are part of the arrays, said Laz Vekiarides, an executive director for Dell EqualLogic.

For Windows environments, Dell is including the ability to consolidate the data snapshots of up to 16 servers running Hyper-V virtualization. This can be done automatically instead of the traditional manual method that requires doing snapshots of each server individually, Vekiarides said.

"I believe this is an industry first," he said. "We're using our own Dell-unique intellectual property for this."

A single console now manages snapshots over the SAN in Microsoft SQL and Exchange environments in a unified manner, he said.

For Linux users, Dell has added automated snapshot capabilities for the first time. "Before, we could only do this in VMware and Microsoft environments," he said. "Now we're bringing it to Linux. We're including applications for consistent snapshots for Linux so that if you need to restore an application, it's now a single command."