Dell has been rumbling about "changing the economics" of data center storage for months, but little has slipped out, until now, in terms of a method for such madness.
Many scratched their heads in May when Dell unfurled the Project Hybrid banner, declared it would reduce the cost and complexity of servers and storage; and then sent reporters on their way. But as game-time approaches, Dell's machinations are coming to light. Slowly, shrewdly, Dell is giving us a glimpse at their roadmap. Just a peek, mind you.
Dell storage marketing chief Praveen Asthana boils down the data center team motto into three words; simple, capable and affordable. But between the lines we can't help but hear:
You're next, NetApp.
All signs point to Dell rallying for an aggressive push at the SMB market with cheap, all-in-one storage devices. And Asthana says iSCSI and virtualization will be Dell's headliners.
When VMware late last year announced that it would support iSCSI, the tides were turned for the Fibre vs. iSCSI debate. Asthana thinks server virtualization has become the killer app for iSCSI storage — providing the advantages of a virtual network without the cost and guru-level expertise tied to Fibre Channel.
It fits into Dell's formula for success; cheap and available. And it's a worthy pitch to IT departments with restricted budgets and limited storage savvy admins.
"At the entry-level NAS space, look at what the competitors are doing," said Asthana, during an interview. "They are charging an enormous amount of money for proprietary storage. NetApp will give you snapshot software for free, but charge you if you want to recover (the data). That's the kind of thing we want to avoid by making things simple for our customers."
Asthana said Dell will go after the big boys by reducing operational costs and making storage products that are customer installable and maintainable rather than services engagement needy. Dell certainly isn't the only company gunning after SMBs with all-in-one, multi-protocol boxes, but Asthana feels Dell will set itself apart by crafting cheaper storage that doesn't skimp on features.
"Some of our competitors are making cheaper storage devices, but they're not more capable," said Asthana. "They won't do it because they don't want to cannibalize their upper tier storage."
We're still looking at you, NetApp.
Asthana believes virtualization has made iSCSI evolve beyond being a poor man's SAN. Specifically, Fibre Channel is a physical storage protocol and requires administrators to map storage LUNs through a hypervisor to the virtual machines. Reassigning those LUNs because of hardware changes or because you're after the fabled dynamic application provisioning ends up as a painful, manual task. And, god forbid, you get into physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-physical virtual machine maneuvering.
(You've seen HP, for example, try and work around this with its Virtual Connect technology built into blade boxes where you wire the systems once and then let software handle changes. Dell hasn't ruled out coming up with something similar, despite its iSCSI leanings.)
"When you move information around on Fibre there's a lot of room for error," Asthana said. "And though IT professionals hate to admit it, the number one case of downtime is human error."
iSCSI is a virtual protocol, so the IP layer is abstracted from the physical. This allows every virtual machine to establish a flexible connection with a storage array.
All of this iSCSI advocation points to Dell sharpening its fangs for a larger product roll out that should see a hardware/software blend around iSCSI and virtualization technologies— but Asthana isn't ready to give any specifics. In May, the company talked up a similar attack around its upcoming blade server line, saying the systems should ship with embedded virtualization software of some sort in the third quarter.
Looking longer term, there also seem to be hints that Dell is creating its own file system for large-scale storage systems or is working hand-in-hand with a partner to deliver one. Such software would again prove valuable in the virtualization arms race.
In the short term, Dell is adding an alternative configuration to its block and file capable PowerVault NX1950 to act as a SAN gateway, connecting directly to existing DELL/EMC CX systems. The new system would support Dell's largest, 480 drive CX array, providing customers with far more storage than today's 45 drive MD3000. Asthana said the unit should be rolling out sometime this summer.
While the new push looks like a grab at NetApp, Asthana says it simply isn't so.
"We don't paint a target on any company and say 'that's what we are after,'" Asthana said.
Oh, Praveen. You're too much. ®