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Dell Technologies marked the one-year anniversary of its PowerStore enterprise storage system with the launch of a cheaper new entry-level model and software update designed to speed performance, add NVMe-over-Fibre-Channel support and bolster automation.
Dell claimed that PowerStore became the fastest ramping new architecture in the company's history, with shipments of 400 PB of storage capacity and revenue quadrupling between its third and fourth fiscal quarters. The sales trajectory of the long-anticipated PowerStore is important to Dell because midrange systems represent the largest enterprise storage segment. Dell COO Jeff Clarke cited slow midrange storage sales as the key reason for a 7% year-over-year decline in third-quarter revenue.
But Dell's midrange storage has since returned to growth, according to Travis Vigil, senior vice president of Dell Technologies' infrastructure solutions group (ISG). During a briefing on the PowerStore updates, Vigil said, "We grew 8% year-on-year in our last fiscal quarter largely on the backs of PowerStore."
New lower-cost PowerStore model
The new PowerStore 500 adds an entry-level option to the 1000, 3000, 5000, 7000 and 9000 models that Dell began shipping last year. The 500 inherits much of the technology the larger arrays support, including support for the container-based architecture, "intelligent" clustering, NVMe and Optane solid-state drives (SSDs), and data reduction at a guaranteed ratio of 4-to-1.
One notable exception is the PowerStore 500's lack of support for the AppsOn feature that provides a built-in VMware hypervisor on the array to let customers run virtual machines (VMs) and applications directly on the appliance. Other differences that Dell cited between the 500 and the rest of the PowerStore family include dual single-socket nodes versus dual-socket nodes and the lack of support for SAS expansion enclosures.
Eric BurgenerResearch vice president, IDC
The PowerStore 500 can support 25 storage drives per appliance and scale to 1.2 PB of effective capacity in a 2U footprint. Jon Siegal, vice president of Dell ISG product marketing, estimated the starting street price at $28,000.
"This entry point will make PowerStore attractive to a new, smaller set of use cases that couldn't consider buying one before," said Eric Burgener, a research vice president at IDC. Burgener envisions the PowerStore 500 in use at remote offices, other distributed locations and possibly edge deployments, for customers that don't want to deploy hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).
Camberley Bates, a managing director and analyst at Evaluator Group, said competitors such as IBM and NetApp also have recently added storage systems at lower price points. She said the new PowerStore 500 would bring Dell EMC down market and provide a replacement for customers of Dell EMC's smaller SC Series arrays, formerly known as Compellent.
Steve McDowell, a senior technology analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said Dell EMC's Unity storage systems also play in the same midrange market as the PowerStore 500. But he sees PowerStore as "clearly the path forward" as the Dell Unity system is "showing its age" and the natural option for Dell to sell in the entry-level flash array market.
PowerStore portfolio 'tune-up'
McDowell described the overall PowerStore portfolio update as a "tune-up on a brand-new one-year-old storage architecture." Although it's "not heavy on features," the release offers a "substantial number of under-the-hood improvements," he said.
The PowerStore 2.0 software -- available to existing customers through a free non-disruptive update -- improves mixed-workload performance by up to 25% and speeds write by up to 65%, based on Dell internal tests of the PowerStore 5000.
"It's really a result of a number of optimizations we made in the software within the data path itself," Dell's Siegal said. He claimed the benefits would apply to all types of workloads, including VDI and SQL databases.
The newly enhanced AppsOn feature adds the ability to cluster multiple PowerStore X appliances to give users more aggregate capacity and ease moving VMs and applications to meet performance needs. Dell said the clustering capabilities could enable customers to consolidate more storage-intensive workloads at the edge and run big-data analytics applications.
PowerStore supported NVMe-based PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs) out of the gate last year, but users will now be able to extend NVMe across the network to their host servers. Dell is adding support for NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC), through the PowerStore software update, "to make an external network array essentially feel like direct attached storage," Siegal said. Customers with 32 Gbps-capable switches and host bus adapters won't need to swap out their network gear to use the new NVMe-over-FC capabilities.
"Any hosts that support NVMe can now use that protocol to talk to PowerStore, while the SCSI hosts continue as if nothing changed," Siegal said. "PowerStore and the network itself can still handle both protocols."
Optane SSD support
In addition to SAS and NVMe drives, PowerStore supported Intel Optane SSDs with the initial release. But the newly updated product also gives customers the option to use the Optane SSDs -- which Dell calls storage class memory (SCM) -- at a higher 1.5 TB capacity point, in addition to the existing 375 GB and 750 GB options.
Optane SSDs use 3D XPoint memory technology to deliver higher performance than NVMe flash drives. PowerStore will now be able to differentiate between Optane SSDs and standard NVMe flash drives in the same chassis and create a high-performance SCM layer with as little as a single drive to accelerate metadata access, Siegal said.
"In the first release, they didn't support NVMe over Fabrics, and a node had to be either all-Optane or all-NAND flash. These go together because Optane is so expensive that few customers would buy an entire node populated with it. But now that you can create an Optane tier with just a couple of drives, it lowers the cost," said IDC's Burgener. "Customers are much more likely to buy a couple of Optane drives to goose node-level performance than they are to fully populate a node with Optane."
NVMe over FC support is one of several new capabilities that are important to PowerStore customer Ultraleap, which makes hand tracking and mid-air haptics technologies. Richard Goodwin, group director of IT at Ultraleap, cited the product's performance improvements, scale-up/scale-out architecture, ease of use and deployment, and deduplication guarantee as additional factors that convinced the company to go with PowerStore over Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Nimble Storage. Plus, Goodwin said Ultraleap negotiated a price that was 15% better than the equivalent HPE Nimble system.
Shifting to PowerStore has enabled Ultraleap to accelerate performance by 450% on average over its hard-disk-based Compellent arrays and Dell EMC VxRail HCI and achieve reduction ratios of about 6-to-1 for key data sets, according to Goodwin. He said tests have shown Ultraleap may reach an even higher ratio with the updated PowerStore.
PowerStore 2.0 also can now automatically optimize for capacity and performance to help customers better meet their performance requirements without impact to their data-reduction ratios, according to Siegal. He said the system could, for instance, prioritize I/O over deduplication when demands for I/O are especially high.
Yet another software improvement in the latest PowerStore is the software-based dynamic resiliency engine to guard simultaneous multiple drive failures. Customers will now have the ability to choose single- or dual-parity redundancy options.
The updated PowerStore software and new PowerStore 500 model will become generally available on June 10. Dell will begin taking orders for the PowerStore 500 on May 4.
Carol Sliwa is a TechTarget senior writer. Her coverage area includes storage arrays and drives, flash and memory technologies, and enterprise architecture.