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Chris Mellor

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Chris Mellor covers storage and allied technology areas for The Register. After experience working for DEC, Unisys and SCO, he became an IT journalist writing for a variety of print publications. He edited the UK's first storage print magazine and then moved into the online world writing for IDG's Techworld, then started up the Blocks & Files blog, which was bought by El Reg.

He has written many sportscar buying guides, a few mountaineering guides and drives a car that's faster than he is.

By | Chris Mellor 28th March 2011 04:00

Dell's storage vision: From reseller to innovator

Fluid Data goes external

Comment Having bought storage technologies and companies to gain entry into new storage categories, Dell is now rolling out a unified storage architectural vision embracing file systems added to every storage offering, and Ocarina-deduplication everywhere. Compellent's fluid data idea is being applied across Dell's storage portfolio from entry level PowerVaults, through SME, and the enterprise out to the cloud.

Dell now has a presence in every main storage category except four:

  • PowerVault entry-level storage
  • EqualLogic iSCSI SAN for SMEs
  • Compellent FC SAN for enterprises
  • DX6000 for archival storage based on objects
  • Nascent products in scale-out NAS with the Exanet intellectual property (IP)
  • Compression and deduplication with Ocarina (which is content-aware)

The four missing areas are a disk-based data protection box to take on Data Domain, a data moving, protection and management package such as those offered by CommVault and Symantec, a cloud storage offering for service providers, and a unified management layer.

The company has had high-level marketing people doing the rounds this month talking up its new Fluid Data Architecture vision and outlining some deliverables we can expect to see later this year.

There are three main storage array product lines at present, with PowerVault, EqualLogic and Compellent. One or more new Compellent products will emerge that move the line up the enterprise storage food chain, with greater capacities and more scale. We also expect the array software to move to 64-bit code, and to have ability to have extremely fine granular control of data blocks for automatic placement across the tiers in a Compellent array.

We understand that Compellent arrays will get an iSCSI SAN capability added to their Fibre Channel SAN features, and that EqualLogic arrays will get Fibre Channel SAN capabilities added to their existing iSCSI block access. This might be native Fibre Channel or it could be Fibre Channel Lite, otherwise known as FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet).


Prior to Dell's acquisition Compellent was developing its own in-house deduplication technology. Dell aims to add Ocarina content-aware compression and deduplication across all its storage systems, via, it's suggested, an integrated front-end appliance. How that would fit with Compellent's own deduplication is not clear. There could be some unification or integration of the two deduplication offerings, a Compellent-only offering behind an Ocarina front-end or an abandonment of the Compellent dedupe technology. We just don't know.

The strategy appears to be to add Ocarina dedupe to Dell's servers too. Data would be compressed, optimised and deduplicated as it enters the Dell compute, networking and storage world and be moved around the infrastructure in deduced form to minimise network bandwidth and storage capacity take-up. This would extend out to the DX6000 archive storage product, to whatever disk-based data protection array Dell comes up with, and out to its cloud offering which it will sell to service providers. The "Ocarina-isation" of Dell's storage array products will, it's hoped, start and be completed in the second half of 2011.

We're told to expect primary storage deduplication up to 57 times more effective than NetApp's ASIS.

Exanet everywhere

Dell will add Exanet-based file system capabilities to its PowerVault, EqualLogic, Compellent and, maybe, DX6000, arrays to provide filer versions of each of these product lines to be sold alongside the existing block versions. The company hopes to do this by the mid-point of this year. A scale-out NAS (network-attached storage) offering, using the Exanet IP, is expected to be introduced by the end of June and to scale up to 64 times more than NetApp. This will be for customers currently attracted to EMC Isilon, IBM SONAS and HP X9000 offerings.

There will be a single management layer across all Dell's storage product lines. The Fluid DataArchitecture idea will be extended out from Compellent's arrays to cover all Dell's storage offerings with the idea that data can be moved between the arrays, both block and file. It can be moved between primary block and file storage arrays to help with load-balancing or as part of a replication and business continuity/disaster recovery offering. It can be moved from these arrays to a disk-based data protection offering, which it seems pretty clear Dell will introduce, although no timescales have been suggested for that.

Data can be moved to Dell's DX6000 archival storage line as it ages. It can be moved to Dell cloud storage offerings taken up by cloud service providers.

What about the resold EMC CLARiiON and VNX arrays? The resale will continue and will help with migration, into Dell's own storage line we understand, as that is bulked out.

Dell becomes really innovative

What we have here is Dell's own storage vision taking shape, with the company being very much more innovative with primary technology than it has been in the past. It is also becoming a much more serious enterprise player storage-wise, and we can't help thinking that this storage set of developments is only part of a wider and converged IT infrastructure offering that Dell is developing.

We will be watching out specifically for a data mover/data management acquisition or partnership, a disk-based data protection product announcement, an Exanet scale-out NAS product announcement, a cloud storage platform announcement, and larger Compellent arrays as well as a major refresh of Compellent's array operating system. We will also be alert of the Ocarina-isation of Dell's storage products and the spread of Exanet filesystem product versions up and down Dell's storage product line.

This is a huge undertaking. If Dell can pull it off then Michael Dell will have worked a near miraculous transformation of Dell from the world's pre-eminent box-shifter to an integrated systems-focussed IT company able to take on HP, IBM and others, as well as EMC, HDS and NetApp in purer storage plays. That will be an amazing shift for a multi-billion dollar IT vendor to make. ®

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