Dell EMC midrange storage keeps its overlapping arrays

Dell EMC plans to keep overlapping midrange storage for now. Dell Technologies World 2018 rollouts included CloudIQ analytics and Isilon SaaS beta with Google Cloud Platform.

LAS VEGAS -- Despite the seeming overlap in its midrange storage portfolio, Dell EMC vowed to continue investing in the multiple systems, at least in the near term.

Dell EMC midrange storage includes the all-flash and hybrid flagship Unity arrays that EMC launched in 2016, and SC and PS Series systems by Dell.  The SC Series is the former Dell Compellent array. The PS Series was formerly branded as EqualLogic.

Dell EMC's market-leading VNX storage ranges from midsize to large-scale enterprises. All-flash XtremIO arrays fall into the midrange bucket as well, although larger customers often use it to scale out performance-oriented block storage.

There has been speculation Dell EMC would consolidate midrange offerings following the vendors' $60-billion-plus merger in 2016. The only product line getting phased out thus far is the PS Series, which Dell placed in maintenance mode prior to the merger.

Jeff Boudreau, president of the Dell EMC storage division, said PS arrays will be supported for several years, but customers won't see many new features or functions added.

Boudreau said company chairman and CEO Michael Dell has stated a commitment to ensuring a smooth transition for customers upgrading to newer generations of its midrange storage.

"Mike has made it very clear we're going to leave no customer behind," Boudreau told during Dell Technologies World 2018. "[Dell and EMC] have two large and loyal installed customer bases and resellers. We want to make sure we take them all on the journey. We will simplify [the portfolio] over time, but we're not going to run away and leave anybody hanging."

Boudreau said each Dell EMC midrange storage platform fills a specific market need. Customers with extreme capacity and performance needs often use Unity in conjunction with high-end PowerMax -- the new branding for Dell EMC VMAX all-flash arrays.

Cut provisioning time with Unity

Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad company Rio Grande Pacific uses an all-flash Unity array with CloudIQ to run its mission-critical applications. The technology helps Rio Grande Pacific run its spinoff business, which develops dispatch systems and other products for small railroad companies.

Rio Grande Pacific CIO Jason Brown said his technology group is a business unit and a profit center. That made it an easy sell to upgrade to an all-flash Unity when the railroad's VNXe3150 array was close to full capacity in late 2016. Brown said the company saves time provisioning servers with the Unity flash array, which runs quietly and reliably in the data center.

"It's one of those devices that hides in the back of the server room and you never think about it and don't worry about it," Brown said of the Unity during an interview at Dell Technologies World.

Brown said Rio Grande Pacific does not use Dell EMC servers, but the performance of the all-flash Unity has his team considering adding new PowerEdge servers with NVMe flash.

"We've been talking about NVMe drives," Brown said. "When we do our server refresh, we'll look at Dell. It's been a long time since I had a Dell server."

The Compellent technology-based SC Series typically gets used in small and midsize environments that want flash storage at a lower price point. Dell EMC last year added data management and data reduction features to SC arrays and two all-flash models.

Predictive cloud analytics debuts in Dell EMC midrange storage

Phasing out PS Series streamlines Dell EMC midrange storage gear, shining more spotlight on the Unity and SC product families, said Greg Schulz, chief advisory analyst at Server and StorageIO Group.

"Giving the customer choice is great as long as it brings revenue or other value [to Dell EMC]. The value is having two storage systems that are aligned for different audiences. As long as Dell can avoid the two technologies competing with other, and instead, take market share from competitors, then both Unity and SC Series can and should exist," Schulz said.

Unity and SC arrays are the first platforms to integrate CloudIQ predictive cloud-based analytics. CloudIQ is the result of a DevOps project from Dell EMC-owned Pivotal Software's Cloud Foundry open source division.

CloudIQ consults Dell EMC's iterative user database to stream telemetry data in real time for users to view overall health of the storage system. The product is similar to Nimble Storage's InfoSight, which Hewlett Packard Enterprise acquired in April 2017.

CloudIQ is available as a free installation for Unity and SC customers, although Dell EMC has yet to formally introduce the product. Boudreau said CloudIQ will extend across Dell EMC storage, starting with PowerMax arrays this fall and Isilon NAS systems in 2019.

"CloudIQ is our answer to Nimble's InfoSight, but we have a much larger installed base that we can look at" to build analytics, Boudreau said.

Dell EMC also is piloting Isilon file services running in Google Cloud Platform. Branded as Isilon Cloud for GCP, the beta program currently has about a half dozen customers in early access. Dell EMC places and manages Isilon scale-out appliances in Google data centers, and the two companies plan to share the profits.

Boudreau said Google approached Dell EMC to pilot the initiative because "Isilon customers were knocking their door down" to use it with Google as their public cloud instance.

Isilon Cloud for GCP is a SaaS-based option for customers that don't have a secondary site for disaster recovery. The product is not the same as Isilon CloudPools, which allows customer to replicate on-premises snapshots to a tier of public cloud storage in Amazon Web Services, Dell EMC Virtustream and Microsoft Azure.

(Dave Raffo contributed to this story.)

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