Dell Outlines Integration And Channel Plan For Compellent And Other Storage Tech

Dell is vowing to integrate its various storage technologies, including several recent acquisitions, and in the process exchange its reputation as a storage reseller for that of a leading innovator.

That integration of EqualLogic iSCSI, Ocarina deduplication, Exanet scale-out NAS, and Compellent tiered storage technologies will eventually allow Dell's storage products to fit seamlessly into converged infrastructures, said Carter George, director of Dell's storage strategy.

And they will also mean enhanced opportunities for Dell's storage-focused channel partner base which this month increased by 50 percent with the acquisition of Compellent, said Phil Soran, president of Dell Compellent.

Dell has been on a storage acquisition binge recently, building a strong storage portfolio as its reseller relationship with long-term partner EMC has declined.

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The binge began in late 2007, when Dell unveiled a $1.4 billion bid for EqualLogic, a pioneer in the development of iSCSI storage. That bid, coming only weeks after Dell made its first concerted effort to build a channel program, gave Dell a solution provider base which was at first concerned about working with Dell but which later formed a core part of the vendor's channel.

That was followed in early 2010 with Dell's acquisition of Exanet, a developer of clustered NAS technology. Exanet's appliances allow NAS to scale as more appliances are added, and can sit in front of other vendors' storage capacity.

Five months later, Dell acquired Ocarina Networks, a developer of content-aware deduplication technology which looks at the content of a file and how it is structured to choose the best way to compress and dedupe the data.

Finally, Dell last month closed its $876 million acquisition of Compellent, a leading developer of tiered storage virtualization technology.

However, Dell has not has a totally smooth storage acquisition record. Dell in 1999 acquired storage technology startup Convergenet, a company which never produced a working product. That was a learning lesson for Dell, which was never able to capitalize on the technology it acquired.

Dell also faltered in an attempt to acquire 3PAR, a developer of storage arrays featuring such services as clustering, tiered storage, and thin provisioning. Dell in August surprised the industry with a $1.5 billion bid for 3PAR, but eventually lost after a short but intense bidding war to HP, which in September paid $3.5 billion for 3PAR.

The acquisition of EqualLogic, Exanet, Ocarina, and Compellent, along with Dell's own PowerVault line, gives Dell a reputation of trying to sell several incompatible storage technologies at once, a situation which is actually the norm in the storage industry.

That is a potential risk when acquiring multiple companies, said George, who was vice president of products at Ocarina when that company was acquired by Dell.

"People ask about our plan to put these things together," George said. "Let's put it another way. We have a plan, and we're acquiring companies as part of that plan."

Dell's storage integration plan calls for it to start integrating the Exanet scale-out NAS file system into its EqualLogic and PowerVault lines starting the first half of 2011, to be followed with integration into the Compellent line, George said.

Dell also plans to integrate Ocarina dedupe technology at the file and object level with its PowerVault and EqualLogic lines, and hopefully its Compellent line, this year, he said. Integration of block-level dedupe, which compresses the data even further, should happen next year, he said.

NEXT: More Integration, Including On The Channel Side

Dell will also integrate Compellent's tiering technology into its other storage offerings to make automated tiering available to all its storage customers, he said.

"When customers buy storage from Dell, they should be able to expect the different parts to work with a consistent look and feel," he said.

Such integration takes time, George said. Integration of the Exanet technology into Dell's EqualLogic and PowerVault lines started immediately after the acquisition a little over a year ago, and the Ocarina integration started the day after Dell closed that acquisition, he said.

The integration of the various storage technologies will also aid Dell's move to be a provider of converged infrastructure, which combines storage, server, and networking technologies into a single architecture which can be managed as a complete solution.

Under Dell's Virtual Integrated System architecture, customers can choose any Dell servers, storage appliances, or networking switches for their data centers, with the switches able to automatically configure themselves to work with the storage and servers, George said.

"They all recognize each other," he said. "So you can buy whatever Dell servers and storage you want, and get the benefits of them working together."

The Compellent products will eventually be integrated into the Virtual Integrated System architecture. "We just closed the deal a couple days ago," Soran said. "Give us some time."

The integration will result in Dell having an "unbeatable" storage architecture, Soran said. "Dell's gone from being a storage reseller a couple years ago to being a technology leader," he said.

Dell's reputation as a "storage reseller" stemmed from a long-term agreement under which it sold storage hardware and software from EMC. Under that deal, Dell became EMC's largest reseller, accounting at one time for up to one-third of EMC's Clariion midrange storage array revenue. However, that relationship has been slipping since Dell acquired EqualLogic, and was pretty much ended by its acquisition of Compellent.

On the channel side, Compellent not only brings Dell 450 solution providers to go with Dell's original 900 storage-focused partners, it also brings additions to the Dell channel program, said Soran, who prior to the acquisition was president and CEO of Compellent.

"Dell a couple years ago was not known as channel-friendly," he said. "But a lot of changes happened after it acquired EqualLogic."

A lot more changes are coming with Compellent, Soran said.

For instance, Compellent's deal registration program was fairly unique in that a solution provider who registered a deal got to keep the benefits of the registration as long as the customer remained happy. Dell is in the process of adding this feature, which it calls relationship registration, as part of its channel program.

Dell is also keeping Compellent's Copilot program, which includes such services as proactive capacity management and load management, and plans to expand it to other Dell storage and non-storage products, George said.