Dell Storage branches out with midsize arrays, software-defined appliances

The company unveiled upcoming enterprise products at the Dell User Forum

Dell plans to expand its storage lineup with a series of midsized SAN arrays and a portfolio of software-defined storage systems, furthering two prominent industry trends.

The new arrays will be configurable as hybrid or as all flash and will undercut competing solid-state arrays in a market where flash storage is getting more competitive with disk drives, according to Dell. The SDS (software-defined storage) appliances are based on a startup's software that runs on standard hardware. Both were announced at the Dell User Forum in Miami on Tuesday.

The SC4000 series of SAN (storage area network) arrays brings most of the features of the SC8000 series to enterprises with smaller storage requirements. Those products will tackle a multibillion-dollar market that Dell has never addressed, taking on other midrange arrays priced between US$25,000 and $50,000, said Travis Vigil, executive director of Dell Storage.

The new array line will debut worldwide in the third quarter with the Dell Storage SC4020, a model that will start with 24 drive slots in a 2U (3.5-inch) rack enclosure. It will be available with both Fibre Channel and iSCSI ports. A full-sized SC4020 will have 120 slots, each of which can be used for SSDs (solid-state drives) or spinning disks. Its maximum capacity will be 400TB.

That's significantly smaller than the SC8000 series, introduced about two years ago, which starts out with a 6U configuration and ultimately can hold 2PB of data. But each product is designed for the same purpose, as a cost-efficient hybrid or all-flash array for general enterprise applications. Even configured fully with flash, the SC4020 will come at a discount of as much as 72 percent versus competing all-flash arrays, the company says.

As with the SC8000, Dell says its ability to build both high-grade SLC (single-level cell) and less expensive MLC (multilevel cell) flash into the same array lowers costs and sets it apart from the competition. The key is software for automatic tiering between the two types of flash depending on application needs, Dell says. The company expects the SC4020 to carry a starting list price below $40,000.

Dell's pricing on the SC4000 series appears to put another nail in the coffin of 15,000-rpm drives, which have been used for relatively high-speed, low-latency storage but are being displaced by faster solid-state media as the price of flash declines. An SC4020 with all flash would cost 18 percent less than a configuration filled with 15,000-rpm drives, in addition to taking up far less space and delivering much faster performance, Vigil said.

The fast spinning disks still sell to enterprises that want to stick to a specific architecture that's already certified, he said.

Also at the User Forum on Tuesday, Dell introduced the Dell XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances, a line of appliances based on software from startup Nutanix. Though it's sold as all-in-one hardware, the XC Series is based on the idea of breaking out storage software and letting it run on any standard x86 platform. Nutanix ships its own appliances, with computing, networking and flash and hard-drive storage built into each one. The XC Series will run that same software on Dell PowerEdge servers.

It's the first OEM (original equipment manufacturer) relationship for Nutanix, according to Dell. The companies will offer a portfolio of products and align their product and technology road maps, Vigil said.

The XC Series is designed to bring Web-scale computing, the architectural approach used by Internet giants such as Google and Facebook, to average enterprises, Vigil said. Web-scale data centers are designed for easy expansion by adding more identical hardware. Dell isn't giving any configurations or prices yet, but it plans to start shipping XC Series appliances in the fourth quarter.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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