General Purpose Disk Array Buying Guide

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The disk array remains the core element of any storage infrastructure. So it’s appropriate that we delve into it in a lot more detail.

Gartner recently released a Magic Quadrant (MQ) for General Purpose Disk Arrays, which Gartner analyst Stanley Zaffos defines as being those that “address shared storage requirements within a single system that can support multiple virtual or physical servers, hosted virtual desktop (HVD) infrastructures, multiple databases and files.” While this market includes midrange, high-end and network-attached storage (NAS) systems, as well as hybrid arrays, it does not include all-flash arrays. 

We will focus on the leaders from the MQ EMC, HP, NetApp, HDS, IBM and Dell.


The disk array has been EMC’s bread and butter for decades. One of its more popular models at the moment is the VNX Series. The company characterizes VNX as the simple, efficient workhorse of the EMC midrange portfolio. It is available in standalone or converged infrastructures such as VSPEX and VCE Vblock, and supports disk, flash, file and block.

New features include D@RE (Data at Rest Encryption), 2.Syncplicity Integration for drop-box like shared folder functionality, and the release of the VNX-VSS (Video Surveillance Storage) and greater density. According to Jon Siegal, ­ Vice President of Product Marketing, EMC’s Core Technologies Division, rates start at under $1/GB, or at less than $12,000 for the smallest member of the VNX family.

“Some of the most common use cases for VMX are virtual machine environments, virtual desktop, email environments, file server consolidation and online transactional processing,” said Siegal.


Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) was another of the companies that Gartner rated highly. The Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform G1000 (VSP G1000), which runs the Hitachi Storage Virtualization Operating System (SVOS), includes software enhancements such as a global-active device capability that allows active/active computing (read-write to the same data in two places) with no additional appliances or devices. With the addition of Hitachi Accelerated Flash storage capacity, the VSP G1000 can handle demanding workloads with low latency and high performance. Pricing varies by configuration.

“With the ability to support virtual server environments, mainframe environments and virtualized and manage heterogeneous storage from nearly any industry player, the VSP G1000 with SVOS is an infrastructure consolidation enabler for enterprises looking speed operations and simplify management,” said Bob Madaio; Senior Director, Product Marketing, HDS.


It’s a bit of a problem getting IBM to focus on one specific product that is representative of its general purpose array products.

“IBM has a diverse portfolio of primary storage products, perhaps some might argue too many that overlap causing confusion if not competition amongst themselves vs. with other vendors,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group. “The company’s main focus appears to be around arrays such as the V7000, which is highly versatile, being based off of the IBM San Volume Controller (SVC) software defined storage virtualization platform that offers support for both IBM and third-party storage.”

IBM Storwize V7000 is a virtualized, enterprise-class storage system that includes real-time compression, consolidation of file and block, policy-based management and clustering. In addition, it offers automated tiering, and IP replication.


Dell also came out among the leaders in the Gartner MQ. It is investing a lot of effort into all-flash arrays and is increasingly releasing arrays that can either be configured for all-flash or as hybrid arrays which are part disk and part flash. One example is the Dell Storage SC4020, a 2U, 24-drive SAN array that incorporates Dell Storage Center 6.5 array software and EqualLogic iSCSI software. It supports Fibre Channel and iSCSI, can scale to more than 400 TB and host up to 10,000 Microsoft Exchange 2013 mailboxes.

“With the Dell Storage SC4000 Series, Dell brings intelligent tiering, thin provisioning and snapshots to a new breed of customers,” said Arun Taneja, founder and president Taneja Group.


According to Gartner, HP’s focus for this market segment rests on its 3PAR StoreServ. Its 3PAR StoreServ 10000 is intended for Tier 1 storage and is said to be able to double VM density on physical servers through a flash-optimized architecture to remove bottlenecks. The latest generation includes what HP calls Thin Deduplication to raise capacity, protect flash performance and extends flash life in a hybrid array setting. In addition, HP has worked to make it easier to migrate to this platform from rival disk arrays. Further new features are better VMware support and faster provisioning of storage.

Zaffos said this emphasis on 3PAR StoreServ has helped HP regain market share and credibility as a provider of general-purpose storage. This model has gradually been replacing HP’s large installed base of Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) series.


NetApp is another vendor in the Leaders category with a lot going on. As this time of writing, the company is preparing for a major disk array release and is keeping quiet about specific products. But Schulz notes that the company is best known for its ONTAP-based FAS file servers that do both block and NAS file serving for primary storage. The company also has primary storage in the E series via the acquisition of Engenio from LSI which is sold directly by NetApp as well as  via OEM partners.

“Both the FAS and E series continue to be enhanced with new hardware, disk drive and flash options, as well as new software functionality,” said Schulz. 

In the follow-up to this article, we will cover the many Challengers and Visionaries outlined in the Gartner MQ.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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