Dell Compellent: New Twist To Tiered Storage

Ed Fiore, vice president of engineering for Dell's storage business, inspects a new Dell Compellent SC280 super dense data storage enclosure at the company's Eden Prairie, Minn., design center.

Dell Wednesday unveiled a new twist to tiered storage with the introduction of tiering between two different flash storage technologies in its Dell Compellent storage arrays.

Dell also enhanced its Compellent arrays with its first dedupe capabilities and new high-density storage shelf, and enhanced the support it offers its Dell EqualLogic storage customers, said Bob Fine, product director for Dell storage.

The updates to Dell's Compellent and EqualLogic storage lines were introduced at the Dell Enterprise Forum, which is being held this week in San Jose, Calif.

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The storage updates come while Dell continues to evolve into a provider of enterprise IT solutions, Fine said.

"Dell has been making the transition to a company that develops its own IP and has made a lot of acquisitions," he said. "And we have been converging our IP, not for IP's sake but to help customers do more with less."

Dell in early 2008 acquired storage vendor EqualLogic, a leader in iSCSI technology, and as a result became one of the top storage vendors in the industry.

Dell followed that acquisition with the 2011 purchase of Compellent, which gave it an enterprise-class storage line.

Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider and Dell partner, said Dell has done well with the enhancements to its Compellent and EqualLogic storage acquisitions.

"This provides those of us selling solutions to offer more options," Clifford said. "The granular approach to the storage architecture lets us design whatever the customers need."

Dell Wednesday introduced the Compellent Storage Center 6.4, an updated version of the Compellent architecture designed for dramatic performance gains over Storage Center 6.3, Fine said.

New with Compellent Storage Center 6.4 is an enhancement to its Data Progression tiering software that now includes a tiered flash storage layer.

"We now provide a flash-optimized solution," he said. "We have offered SLC flash technology for a while, but we are now extending Compellent to lower-cost MLC flash. Customers have been struggling with finding the right flash. Do they want the performance and reliability of SLC? Or the capacity of lower-cost MLC? Now we leverage both."

NEXT: Dell Compellent Gets Tiered Flash, Highly Dense Disk

When data writes come into a Compellent array with two-tiered flash storage, they first go to SLC for performance, Fine said. As the data ages, it is moved to MLC, and then to rotating disk, giving customers the right performance at the right cost, he said.

"By putting a small amount of data on SLC, our system costs 75 percent less than an all-SLC flash architecture," he said.

Dell also introduced a Compellent high-density storage enclosure that fits up to 84 3.5-inch hard drives into only 5U of rack space, which Fine said is about 2.8 times the density of traditional 2U disk enclosures with 3.5-inch hard drives.

"This is the highest-density storage capacity of any major storage vendor," he said. "This is the right complement for our new flash technology."

Dell also took advantage of its 2010 acquisition of Exanet, a scalable NAS technology developer, to double the addressable volume size to 2 petabytes of capacity in a single name space.

Also new to Compellent is policy-based deduplication, which gives administrators complete control over when dedupe is run and how it is run.

"This is the first time dedupe technology has been offered with Compellent," Fine said. "We're starting on the file side, and will move to offer block dedupe over time."

A tiered flash layer makes a lot of sense, said Davenport's Clifford.

"A key element of the Compellent architecture is its granular nature," he said. "Compellent is different from every other architecture. Other manufacturers build in RAID sets and lock customers into that architecture forever. Compellent takes all the drives in a tier and virtualizes everything. The drive is the horsepower, but the architecture puts the data where it is needed."

The next step in the evolution of storage tiering, if there is a cache, is to break it down into smaller steps and move it faster, which the new version of the Data Progression software now does, Clifford said.

"You can build a large pool of MLC cache and a smaller pool of SLC cache and get high performance at a lower cost."

The new high-density storage enclosures are also a logical progression of the Compellent hardware, Clifford said.

NEXT: Partners And The New Tiered Flash, High-Density Capabilities

"We keep making things faster, better and smaller based on customer needs for higher performance and for keeping data forever," he said. "Getting this kind of density is really hard. If it could have been done before, it would have been done before. A lot of issues had to be overcome first. You can't say, 'OK, lets just put this together.' "

Patrick Mulvee, vice president of sales and marketing at Sidepath, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and Dell storage partner, said Compellent's new Data Progression software could make it easier to sell more flash storage.

"Customers buying flash already can handle the higher price," Mulvee said. "But maybe by adding an MLC flash layer, it opens the doors for more customers to adopt flash storage."

Customers' storage capacities continue to grow, and the new high-density storage enclosure for Compellent arrays should go far in meeting their requirements, Mulvee said.

"Now you can put a half-petabyte in 10U," he said. "That's cool. Or 1 petabyte in 20U. Customers at co-los are going to eat this up because of the big reduction in footprint. Customers often pay by the square foot. In some older data centers, if you go over a certain number of watts per square foot, you have to rent more space. This will cut customers' opex."

Dell has also increased the support it offers customers of its EqualLogic iSCSI storage line with Support Assist, an automated service that helps pre-analyze potential configurations and changes to those configurations.

"For example, if you change a RAID level, will it help?" Fine said. "If there's an error in configuration, it sends a note to customers and automatically passes the information to Dell. If the customer gives permission, Dell can go in and fix it."