Dell Storage Buyer’s Guide

A few years ago, Dell might not have merited a storage buyer’s guide–a few low-end storage servers and some relabeled gear from other storage OEMs were all it had on offer–and most of it in the commodity end of the market. What a difference half a decade makes. Based on internal R&D and some smart acquisitions, the company now provides a wide range of network attached storage (NAS), storage area networking (SAN) and direct attached storage (DAS) gear.

“Dell’s Fluid Data solutions are customer-inspired technologies designed for seamless, automated and optimized movement of data from the server to storage to the cloud; helping customers efficiently and flexibly move the right data to the right place at the right time at the right cost,” said Liem Nguyen, Director of Communications, Dell Storage.

1. PowerVault

PowerVault is the traditional Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) line, covering DAS and SAN environments. In tandem with the Dell PowerEdge server line, it’s designed to offer seamless extension of server capacity and performance while acting as an easy-to-use storage consolidation platform. PowerVault is targeted at SMBs or branch offices.

Big changes to PowerVault in recent times include support for 8 Gb Fibre Channel and the acquisition of Exanet, a pioneer in embeddable, scale-out NAS storage solutions. Since the acquisition, Dell has been integrating Exanet assets into its existing storage offerings. The Exanet file system has been renamed the Dell Scalable File System. It can be found in the PowerVault NX3500, which adds file-based NAS capabilities to Dell’s traditional block-based PowerVault platform.

The PowerVault NX3500 utilizes the Dell Scalable File System and the PowerVault MD backend for iSCSI, CIFS and NFS access to block and file data, enabling a single file share to scale up to the capacity of the MD deployment, currently 192 TB of raw capacity,” said Nguyen. “The NX3500 also has no architectural limits on file-system size.”

List price is $15,300 for the 2 NX3500 controllers and the backup power supply. This does not include the PowerVault MD 3xx0i array for block and file storage

2. EqualLogic

Dell EqualLogic dominates the iSCSI SAN marketplace and continues to sell well, according to Nguyen. This line features a patented peer storage architecture where components and arrays work together to share resources and distribute loads. Dell promises a fully functional array within 60 minutes after opening the box. EqualLogic comes with continuous resource monitoring and automatic management of configuration, load-balancing, capacity expansion, storage pools and tiers, volume snapshots and replication. Online, on-demand capacity expansion without disruption is another feature.

Dell continues to invest in this product line. It has introduced Datacenter Bridging Support (DCB) to improve quality of service with and even traffic flow in a converged SAN/LAN networking fabric. Enhanced load balancing between EqualLogic arrays can boost performance up three times compared to environments running previous EqualLogic software versions. Improved thin provisioning awareness with VMware vSphere 4.1 reduces recovery time and helps mitigate the risk of potential data loss.

Dell also recently announced EqualLogic FS7500 unified storage, which stores block and file data on a single platform. It works with new and existing EqualLogic storage arrays to manage iSCSI, CIFS and NFS access to a single flexible storage pool using EqualLogic Group Manager. Its unique scale-out architecture lets customers expand storage capacity or system performance as needed. It is aimed at midsize organizations and SMBs.

“The Dell EqualLogic family is designed for highly virtualized environments where ease-of-use and integration with popular virtualization suites are required,” said Nguyen. “EqualLogic is ideal for customers without an existing Fibre Channel investment or those that are converging onto an Ethernet-based architecture.”

3. Compellent

Compellent features multi-protocol support, resiliency against downtime and disaster and the ability to reduce storage costs. Dell Compellent Storage Center 5.4 offers Dell Fluid Data storage management capabilities including: automated tiered storage, thin provisioning, space-efficient snapshots, thin replication, boot from SAN, storage virtualization and multisite storage resource management with automated storage utilization reporting.

“Unlike traditional SANs, Dell Compellent Storage Center 5.4 offers a persistent architecture that enables end-user organizations to adapt to growing and changing business needs without the need for forklift upgrades,” said Nguyen. “IT teams can mix-and-match drive types, controllers, networking technologies and more as needs evolve over time.”

It comes with 6 Gb SAS drives that provide twice the performance and use nearly half the power of 3 Gb SAS drives. Further, the 2.5″ SAS drives used to offer a smaller footprint. That means 6 Gb SAS enclosures provide 24 bays to accommodate twice the number of spindles in the same amount of rackspace. 10 Gb iSCSI and FCoE I/O cards and HBAs provide good interconnect performance. Live Volume acts as a storage hypervisor, mapping one storage volume to two Dell Compellent arrays at the same time. A new Series 40 controller boosts performance by 25 percent for demanding applications. Dell is targeting this product at midsize to large enterprises. The starting price is $48,000 excluding maintenance and services.

“The Dell Compellent Storage Center 5.4 is a virtualized storage array that allows enterprises to rapidly adapt to changing business requirements with greater scale up from a next-generation hardware platform and enhanced scale out from a dynamic business continuity suite,” said Nguyen. “Organizations can leverage the latest industry standards, from 10 GbiSCSI and FCoE frontend connectivity to 2.5″ or 3.5″ 6 Gb SAS drives and enclosures.”

4. DX Object Storage Platform

The DX Object Storage Platform is an object-based archiving approach that is said to be easy to manage, scales seamlessly and offers plug-n-play expansion and retirement. It serves as a foundational element for Dell’s Email & File Archive offering and service as well as Dell’s Unified Clinical Archive. It deals with large amounts of unstructured data. The Email and File Archive helps companies store large amounts of data off-site.

The DX6000G, for example, is a CIFS/NFS protocol gateway for applications that use common file-based networking protocols to interact with the DX Object Storage Platform for archiving purposes. Pricing starts at $20,882.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.
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