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Dell PowerFlex comes to AWS for hybrid cloud storage

Dell brings its software-defined storage PowerFlex to AWS. The new offering is part of its Project Alpine initiative to connect its storage OSes to hyperscalers.

Dell Technologies is taking its PowerFlex software-defined storage operating system to AWS, a first in an initiative to bring more of its storage OSes to the public cloud.

Now generally available, Dell PowerFlex can be purchased through the AWS Marketplace, where customers will have access to almost all features and capabilities needed for enterprise block storage in a public cloud setting.

Dell's push to open its storage OSes to the public cloud, an initiative it calls Project Alpine, is part of a developing relationship between on-premises and cloud vendors. Major public clouds are turning to third-party enterprise vendors such as Dell to handle multi-cloud and hybrid cloud connections, according to Dave Raffo, an analyst at Evaluator Group.

Last year, AWS touted its partnership with NetApp to bring the OnTap storage OS to the public cloud. The new partnership with Dell aims to bring enterprise customers running Dell's hardware on-premises into AWS in a similar way, Raffo said.

"This is another sales channel for Dell," he said. "[And] who has more salespeople than Dell?"

PowerFlex + AWS

PowerFlex on AWS uses AWS Elastic Block Storage for longer-term persistent storage or EC2 instance stores for faster, high-demand workloads.

Most tools and capabilities available to on-premises PowerFlex users, such as data replication management, are duplicated in the cloud, which also provides connections to other AWS services. PowerFlex also offers a similar GUI for both cloud and on-premises storage management.

The new offering enables Dell storage services to interact with AWS services such as storage for backups or EC2 for compute. Users can also back up to multiple availability zones within a single region without copying or duplicating data to increase recovery locations for high availability and durability.

Many of our customers soon realize [when using PowerFlex that] they don't need to add more compute but may be growing their storage footprint.
Michael RichtbergChief strategy architect for PowerFlex, Dell Technologies

Not all capabilities have made it to the cloud, however. The new offering lacks hyperconverged infrastructure features and managed services offerings. Dell spokespeople said keeping the compute and storage separate enables less expensive scaling of storage resources for PowerFlex customers wanting to use the cloud.

"Many of our customers soon realize [when using PowerFlex that] they don't need to add more compute but may be growing their storage footprint," said Michael Richtberg, Dell's chief strategy architect for PowerFlex.

Pricing for PowerFlex in AWS is based per terabyte, with specific prices up to individual customer contracts.

Slow climb

Dell chose PowerFlex as its first Project Alpine release because it's a software-defined storage platform, making cloud availability more straightforward than other OSes due to its interoperability with hardware and vendor environments, according to Richtberg. PowerFlex is also used by a handful of enterprise customers searching for a way into hybrid cloud, he said.

In addition to PowerFlex, Dell's ambitions for Project Alpine are to place PowerMax and PowerStore OSes on AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. The PowerMax OS supports Dell's high-end, all-flash NVMe storage hardware. The PowerStore OS targets more general workloads for the midrange market, with support for both flash and standard hard drives.

Building for hybrid or multi-cloud customers while prioritizing its own products will remain a tightrope walk for Dell, however, Raffo said. After divesting from VMware late last year, the company has become more amendable to working with partners such as Red Hat on certain technologies like hypervisors, he said.

For hyperscalers, partnerships with established vendors like Dell will continue to make the cloud more enterprise viable, according to Scott Sinclair, practice director at Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget.

AWS initially sought out cloud-native startups and developers as customers, but it is increasingly turning to partners for enterprise-tested infrastructure like storage to connect on-premises workloads to the cloud. Companies like Dell and NetApp may be direct data center competitors but are willing to work with AWS, despite the hyperscaler selling its own storage products.

Enterprise customers expect increasing interoperability among their hardware, software and cloud purchases in the years to come, Sinclair said. That expectation will ultimately require a certain level of cooperation among vendors traditionally considered rivals.

"If we fast forward five years, everyone is going to work with everyone," he said. "The world is on a path to become more distributed, not more consolidated."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news for TechTarget Editorial.

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