Dell Ups Data Center Focus With New High-Performance Storage, Sub-Hyperscale Servers

Dell Tuesday opened this week's annual Dell World conference with the introduction of several new server and storage technologies aimed at helping it be a bigger part of the enterprise data center business.

Dell, which with its pending acquisition of EMC already is aiming at becoming a top enterprise data center infrastructure provider, is this week using Dell World to refresh its top-line storage hardware and software lines, introduce new services, and unveil a line of servers targeting the hyper-scale data center business.

Dell is adding a new top-of-the-line model to its Compellent-based SC family of arrays and is refreshing its line of hyper-converged appliances based on the Nutanix software stack, said Travis Vigil, executive director for Dell storage.

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The new SC9000 is the first in the SC family to be based on Dell's 13th-generation (G13) PowerEdge servers, and features the new version 6.7 of the Dell Storage Center storage operating system, Vigil told CRN.

The SC9000 scales to more than 3 Petabytes of raw capacity to array, and can expand further in multi-array configurations with seamless volume movement between arrays. Capacity expands with the use of new 12-Gbps SAS enclosures.

Dell Storage Center 6.7 includes enhanced compression for all-flash storage, bringing the cost of flash storage down to 65 cents per GB with active compression, including the array, software, and three years of Dell Co-pilot support, Vigil said.

The software also supports VMware Metro Cluster capability, backup of data to the Microsoft Azure cloud, and self-encrypting SSDs, and adds what Dell calls "thin import" as a way to easily move data from its PS line of storage arrays, formerly known as EqualLogic, he said.

Another key Storage Center 6.7 capability is Live Volume, the ability to automatically migrate data in case of a disaster with zero workload downtime.

While Dell has stated that a long-term part of its storage strategy is to converge the PS and SC lines, it is not yet happening, Vigil said. "The next logical step for PS storage customers is to move to the SC line," he said. "But we will support PS storage for as long as customers want it."

While Dell's current SC8000 loses against EMC's flagship VMAX line because of its two-controller limit, the SC9000, which now scales to multiple controllers, gives partners a new solution for competing against VMAX, said Michael Tanenhaus, principal at Mavenspire, an Annapolis, Md.-based solution provider and Dell channel partner.

"It's ironic," Tanenhaus told CRN. "Dell finally creates something to compete with VMAX, and now it's acquiring the company that makes VMAX."

Mavenspire's Tanenhaus said he is happy to have the SC9000 platform for the next couple years. "Dell's new platforms typically come out before the features that can really use them," he said. "Dell puts a stake in the ground to be ready for changes coming down the road."

The new SC9000 will mean a lot of upgrade business for customers of the older SC8000 arrays because of the increased memory, processing and scalability, said Scott Winslow, president of Winslow Technology Group, a Boston-based solution provider and Dell channel partner.

"We already have customers pushing the limit of the SC8000," Winslow told CRN. "They're really interested in the SC9000."

That kind of upgradeability is easy with the SC9000 family because, like all arrays built on Dell's Compellent storage platform, software is included as part of a perpetual license, Winslow said.

Storage Center 6.7's Live Volume with auto-failover feature is a huge plus for the SC9000, Winslow said. "We had one customer move their entire data center from one side of Cambridge, [Mass.], to the other with an older version of Live Volume with no issues at all," he said. "Our customers are excited to see the addition of auto failover."

Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider and Dell channel partner, said the SC9000 makes him smile.

"It's more than just the addition of the G13 servers," Clifford told CRN. "It's pushing massive IOPS. The upgraded hardware gives Dell a lot of running room for long-term enhancements. Dell is setting it up for Storage Center 7.0. It will have some [exceptional] features, and will need the extra performance."

With the SC9000, Dell is showing its ability to innovate to make sure customers don't get left behind, Clifford said. "We're at that moment in time where the industry is shifting to hybrid flash and all-flash," he said. "Customers need the IOPS to make it happen, and the SC9000 provides it."

Patrick Mulvee, partner at Sidepath, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and Dell channel partner, said his company has already taken the SC9000 to a customer site where dedupe and compression performance on its flash storage component was impressive.

"With flash storage, we're seeing customers' data center footprints already shrinking," Mulvee told CRN. Dell with the SC9000 is leading the market with flash storage."

Dell Tuesday also updated its XC series of hyper-converged infrastructure appliances based on its OEM relationship with Nutanix.

This includes a brand-new platform, the Dell XC6320, which Vigil described as a high-density platform that fits four server nodes and up to 44 TB of raw storage in a 2U rack-mount device. For four nodes, Dell previously required four 1U servers, he said.

Dell ntroduced two all-flash versions of its Nutanix-based hyper-converged infrastructure appliances as well, he said.

Dell also offers VMware EVO:Rail-based hyper-converged appliances. While CRN has reported that sales of the EVO:Rail solution have been slow, Vigil declined to discuss sales numbers for the line. "There's more interest in our XC line, which has larger scalability features and more enterprise capabilities, but we've seen interest in EVO:Rail," he said.

Winslow said the high compute and storage density of the XC6320 along with the new flash nodes gives Dell new options in the hyper-converged infrastructure market, especially when competing with Nutanix's own appliances, which use the Supermicro hardware platform.

"The density is a real eye-opener," he said. "We feel Dell has a more enterprise-ready solution."

Dell also used Dell World to introduce the next generation of its data protection software.

That software, formerly known as AppAssure, has been rebranded as Dell Data Protection, said Brett Roscoe, executive director for data protection as part of the Dell software business.

"We want the software to be more self-descriptive in its name, and fit in with the rebranding of other Dell solutions," Roscoe told CRN.

Dell Data Protection, based on Dell's 2012 acquisition of AppAssure, continues to offer such capabilities as Rapid Snap, which provides application-aware block-based data snapshots as often as every five seconds and the ability to run an application after a disaster even while the data is being restored in the background, Roscoe said.

New to Dell Data Protection is the agentless VMware capability from Dell's vRanger solution. "AppAssure before supported physical environments," he said. "Now customers can manage VMware ESX servers running multiple virtual machines to do low-touch snapshots and replications of those virtual machines."

Also new is Rapid Recovery Repository, a new capability that takes advantage of deduplication technology from Dell's DR family of data protection appliances, Roscoe said. This lets the DR family appliances be a backup target for Dell Data Protection, giving the software a scale-out capability that lets customers add capacity without the need for more management servers, he said.

Also new is Dell Data Protection Endpoint Recovery, the company's first software that allows continuous data protection of a customer's Windows-based laptops, tablets or other edge-of-network devices, Roscoe said.

"This is a lightweight solution on the client device," he said. "It's an easy-to-use, robust solution for SMB customers. Our road map for next year calls for scalability of the solution to the enterprise and the cloud while letting users do self-service recovery."

Clifford said that, over the past few years, every storage solution his company has proposed has included AppAssure, resulting in a lot of sales. Therefore, he said, his company is all on board with the new Dell Data Protection.

"Rapid Snap and Rapid Recovery refine the ability to get return to operations and recovery point objective to as close to perfect without massive expense," he said. "Generally, a fast return to operations and granular recovery point objectives are very expensive to do. AppAssure was good at this before. Dell Data Protection makes it even better."

On the server side, Dell introduced the first in its DSS, or Datacenter Scalable Solutions, line, which was first unveiled in August.

The DSS server line is aimed at what Jyeh Gan, director of product management and strategy for the servers, termed the "sub-hyperscale data center market," which includes customers in the telecom, oil and gas, and other markets where customers require large volumes of servers and have the expertise to provide much of their own support.

Dell has been in stealth mode with the DSS line for about a year, but has already shipped tens of thousands of the servers, Gan told CRN.

Many of the DSS servers were originally built for specific customers, but then standardized as more customers asked for similar solutions, Gan said. "It's our job to say 'yes' to whatever customers want," he said.

About 30 percent of the DSS server business so far has come from indirect channel partners, and that part of the business is growing, Gan said. "We want to work with whoever understands the customers best, including their needs and their environments," he said. "Channel partners benefit by adding applications and other integrations for their customers."

The DSS server line differs from Dell's more traditional PowerEdge enterprise server line primarily in the lower level of warranty and break-fix support Dell offers for the DSS servers. They also do not include automatic upgrades for administrator licenses or automatic patches.

"Customers have their own expertise and on-site parts boxes," he said. "The DSS servers have a lower cost point because of this. We offer a base warranty. But these type of customers do not care as much about what happens if a server breaks."

Dell will not forbid enterprise customers from buying the DSS servers, Gan said. "As long as they understand the differences, they're fine to buy them," he said.

Tanenhaus said Dell last year provided just a taste of what the DSS would become, and it was good.

"Having it available now for integration with software-defined storage applications is awesome," he said. "Especially when talking to customers about scale-out boxes for object storage."

The DSS line is not really for general enterprise customers, Tanenhaus said. "It's for medical, university, super computing, financial, and other big customers," he said. "This is perfect for customers working with the scalable open-source Ceph storage architecture. I've been waiting a year for this. Customers started calling me about it after last year's Dell World."

Mulvee said his company will bring the DSS to a certain customer set that needs performance for certain applications but is not worried about support.

"Support is irrelevant for such customers because they make their applications resilient," he said. "This is great for new customers, or for Web 2.0 companies."

Dell is also using Dell World to introduce the Dell ProDeploy Enterprise Suite to channel partners as a way to more easily deliver, resell, and co-deliver deployment services.

Also new is the Dell Application Modernization Portfolio, a set of integrated solutions to help customers modernize and simplify their legacy applications.

Dell's DSS servers and the Dell Storage SC9000 are available starting this week. Dell Data Protection and Rapid Recovery are slated to be released in the fourth quarter. The new XC6320 hyper-converged infrastructure appliances are available this week, while the all-flash models are slated to ship in November.