Dell ships “game-changer” flash storage solution


The Dell Compellent flash-optimized solution

Last June, at Dell Enterprise Forum, Dell announced what they termed a game-changing flash optimization solution for Compellent, which automatically tiers between MLC and SLC, and which slashes the cost of flash significantly as a result. Today, that solution ships.  And Dell is further touting the validity of its approach by citing the results of an independent study that  places Dell first as the choice of companies who currently use or plan to use a flash/SSD implementation.


“In June we spoke about what was coming, but that was more of a technology discussion,” said Bob Fine, Director of Product Management, Dell Storage. “Now the product is shipping. But we can also show an economic value proposition, that is radically different from what else is on the market today, and that’s very important.”


That finding comes from a report by storage analyst firm Storage Strategies NOW (SSG-NOW), in a new report and survey on solid state drives and flash memory technology. Dell signed on as a sponsor of the report when they found about its conclusions, but the study was not commissioned by Dell, or initiated at its behest.


The survey of over 550 IT professionals (with 29% from SMBs, 44% from mid-size and SMEs and 27% large enterprises) found that 32% are now using or plan to use a flash/SSD solution, with another 26% studying the issue. Most significantly for Dell however was that they came in first, at 31%, among the vendors whose SSD implementation was or would be deployed. EMC came in second at 25% followed by HP (23%) IBM (22%) and Intel (20%).


“This is a significant technology validation, because it shows IT professionals look at Dell,” Fine said. “With our storage tiering, we can provide flash systems in a 15K drive – which is why customers are looking to Dell.”


The tiering breakthrough is a feature of Dell Compellent Storage Center 6.4, available at no additional cost for customers with active contracts. It first writes data to high-performance, high-reliability flash (SLC) drives. As data ages, it is automatically moved to a second tier of lower-cost, higher-capacity flash (MLC) drives, and finally to low-cost, capacity-based hard disks, at a net savings of up to 80% over SLC flash.


“Most of the larger vendors are shipping all-SLC systems today, and they have great performance on writes, but they come at a high cost,” Fine said. “Smaller vendors are offering MLC, but they have some restrictions and caveats, in particular lacking the durability the enterprise requires. At Dell, we are using both technologies together that uses them both in the best way they were designed to be used, with MLC as bulk storage and SLC as the fast tier.”


Fine said the response from both Dell customers and partners has been extremely strong since the June announcement.


“We all know flash is game-changing technology, and the market recognizes the benefits of flash, but the biggest barrier to flash adoption in the mainstream has been cost, and that issue transcends the underlying technology. Customers want a business problem solved and flash delivered in the cheapest possible way. The tiering software does this. It lets you use a small amount of  expensive SLC in a drive that gives all the performance of SLC, but with the economics of MLC.”


Fine said that while MLC has been improving in quality, and that Dell believes that MLC will continue to improve, it’s not quite there yet in terms of enterprise reliability.


“Look at the drive specs,” he said. “SLC is designed for 30 full capacity writes a day whereas MLC is designed for 4 full capacity writes a day. That’s not Dell’s opinion, that’s the drive vendor’s specification.  That will change over time, but right now, the best combination is what we have.


“We think a few years from now, there will be also be other technologies,” Fine added. “But the beauty of our architecture is it will allow us to adopt any of them and put them in our system. It has the ultimate in flexibility.”


Dell also announced it is shipping the Dell Compellent SC280 dense enclosure, which offers the best rack unit density of any major storage solution with up to 2.8 times more capacity than competing 2U 3.5” disk drive enclosures. This enclosure, which was announced in June at the same time as Dell Compellent Storage Center 6.4, can be used in one solution that tiers data from high-performance flash drives down to high-capacity, cost-optimized storage within a single Dell Compellent array. With capacity of up to 336 terabytes of hard drives in a 5U enclosure, the dense enclosure maximizes floor space and creates an all-in-one, fast-write, bulk storage solution.


“The enclosure, the Storage Center 6.4, and the findings of the study, all this is about how these pieces work together,” Fine said. “It shows that what Dell is providing is new and radical in the industry, offering flash at a price point that hasn’t been seen before.”


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