The best enterprise storage arrays of 2021

Tintri, Infinidat and Dell EMC enterprise arrays win top honors in the Products of the Year disk and disk subsystems category for their use of flash and automation.

The top three enterprise storage arrays in the Storage magazine and SearchStorage 2021 Products of the Year disk and disk subsystems category illustrate the growing presence of flash storage as organizations manage surges in data growth.

Entries in the disk and disk subsystems category encompass a range of storage products, including those that use fixed disk, all-flash and hybrid media; multiprotocol and converged infrastructure systems; SSDs and HDDs; disk controllers; and appliances used to cache data. To qualify for consideration, each vendor's product must integrate software management with storage features directly embedded in the media.

Spinning disk retains a prominent position in the enterprise, but the current darling of the data center is flash storage. Flash adoption is no longer limited to larger organizations. Flexible flash configurations and expected price declines combine to make flash compelling to more midsize organizations.

The rise of edge computing, coupled with intelligent data management, emerged as common themes among this year's entrants. In a corresponding trend, enterprise buyers want AI-equipped systems that automate storage management. These trends have been underway for several years, but they accelerated in 2021, spurred by the work-from-home phenomena and its accompanying need for more robust data security.

Our 2021 disk and disk subsystems category winners include a vendor that almost went bankrupt and two repeat vendors from 2020 who have swapped their respective podium positions.

Gold winner: Tintri VMstore T7000 Series

Tintri Inc., a DataDirect Networks (DDN) company, won gold with its VMstore T7000 Series system. The NVMe-based array integrates Tintri virtualized storage with two other DDN-acquired storage technologies: Nexenta's NexentaStor file system and the IntelliFlash storage systems it picked up from Western Digital Corp. Tintri was able to design T7000 arrays on the DDN ExaScaler A3I chassis, which is engineered to ingest deep-learning data at scale.

The arrays combine NVMe performance with autonomous management geared to VMware administrators. The vendor claims VMstore T7000 arrays improve performance approximately 30% with consistent performance isolation and have less than 1 millisecond of latency. Tintri said its AI and machine learning automates about 95% of storage tasks.

Tintri VMstore T7000 Series
Tintri VMstore T7000 Series arrays combine NVMe performance with autonomous management geared to VMware administrators.

Tintri VMstore T7000 won the top spot from our judges for its ease of use and comprehensive tool set. Although it was originally geared for virtual environments, judges said Tintri VMstore T7000 storage serves newer dense workloads and traditional enterprise applications. Tight integration with VMware is a highlight, but one judge said the real innovation and value comes from Tintri's management autonomy. "That [makes it] an industry leader and highly innovative for a storage system," the judge said.

Another judge concurred, describing Tintri VMstore T7000 as a peek into the future of IT administration. "Its unique use of integrated intelligence and automated workflows sets it apart from its competitors," the judge said. "At the same time, the performance and feature set are compelling enough for any enterprise to adopt."

Silver winner: Infinidat InfiniBox SSA

Infinidat, last year's bronze winner in this category, made its name selling the InfiniBox petabyte (PB)-scale storage system designed with HDDs, accompanied by a modest tier of flash acceleration. The InfiniBox SSA introduces an all-flash model to the 10-year-old vendor's lineup.

The original disk-based InfiniBox system configures HDDs on the back end, serving all writes and most reads from DRAM and NAND SSD layers. The InfiniBox SSA replaces HDDs with commodity triple-level cell NAND SSDs for persistent storage and requires no secondary flash cache. Customers can manage both disk- and flash-based InfiniBox models using the cloud-based InfiniVerse AIOps platform.

"Infinidat already had high-performing storage arrays, and improved performance even more with its first all-flash device," one judge said.

Infinidat InfiniBox SSA
The InfiniBox SSA replaces HDDs with commodity triple-level cell NAND SSDs for persistent storage and requires no secondary flash cache.

Although it sells hardware-based arrays, Infinidat said the key to its high performance is its software, particularly its Neural Cache algorithm. The smart storage software analyzes access patterns in real time to predict which data sets users are likely to request.

"Infinidat figured out that DRAM over flash does have some key advantages, especially at the high end of workloads, and thus [developed] the InfiniBox solid-state appliance. The storage screams [and comes] at a reasonable price," noted one judge.

InfiniBox SSA is faster than most storage systems, agreed another judge, but the 1 PB effective capacity likely won't interest organizations with highly scalable storage. "It's a solid, full-featured enterprise-class storage system. However, it does not scale up very high, nor does it scale out. That [classifies it as] more of a midtier system," the judge said.

Bronze winner: Dell EMC PowerStore 500 with PowerStoreOS 2.0

Midrange enterprise arrays represent a booming market and Dell EMC expects PowerStore systems to generate most of its new revenue.

PowerStore was the silver winner in this category last year. The PowerStore 500 entry-level model and PowerStoreOS 2.0 software expand enterprise services across the product family. PowerStore arrays support NVMe over Fibre Channel and appliance clustering to improve performance. The AppsOn feature enables customers to migrate storage with VMware vMotion.

Combined with AI tuning and intelligent tiering, the latest PowerStoreOS release is rated to achieve up to 25% more IOPS. PowerStore optimizes capacity and performance to simplify storage management, including guaranteed 4:1 data reduction.

Dell EMC PowerStore 500 with PowerStoreOS 2.0
Dell EMC PowerStore arrays support NVMe over Fibre Channel and appliance clustering to improve performance.

Dell has incorporated Intel Optane storage class memory as a metadata tier to reduce workload latency up to 15%.

One judge said the latest software release significantly boosts performance and workload consolidation, particularly for cloud-native enterprises. "It extracts greater performance [from the array] without changing the hardware. Self-tuning, smart tiering and AppsOn technology all [help] reduce the complexity of managing storage," the judge said.

While noting the software improvements, our judges said some features were expected at the PowerStore product launch. The release provides a "a much-needed upgrade," one judge said. "There's a lot to like here in [terms of] increased performance and automation upgrades."

Learn more about the winning Storage magazine and SearchStorage 2021 Products of the Year in all five categories.

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