Dell EMC, DevOps, And The World Of Infrastructure Automation

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 19.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Dell EMC recently presented at Storage Field Day 19. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


Silos? We Don’t Need No Silos

The data centre is changing, as is the way we manage it. There’s been an observable evolution of the applications we run in the DC and a need for better tools. The traditional approach to managing infrastructure, with siloed teams of storage, network, and compute administrators, is also becoming less common. One of the key parts of this story is the growing need for automation. As operational organisations in charge of infrastructure and applications, we want to:

  • Manage large scale operations across the hybrid cloud;
  • Enable DevOps and CI/CD models with infrastructure as code (operational discipline); and
  • Deliver self service experience.

Automation has certainly gotten easier, and as an industry we’re moving from brute force scripting to assembling pre-built modules.


Enablers for Dell EMC Storage (for Programmers)


All of our automation Power Tools use REST

  • Arrays have a REST API
  • REST APIs are versioned APIs
  • Organised by resource for simple navigation


  • HTTPS, TLS 1.2 or higher
  • Username / password or token based
  • Granular RBAC

With REST, development is accelerated


Ansible for Storage?

Ansible is a pretty cool automation engine that’s already in use in a lot of organisations.

Minimal Setup

  • Install from yum or apt-get on a Linux server / VM
  • No agents anywhere

Low bar of entry to automation

  • Near zero programming
  • Simple syntax


Dell EMC and vRO for storage

VMware’s vRealize Orchestrator has been around for some time. It has a terrible name, but does deliver on its promise of simple automation for VMware environments.

  • Plugins allow full automation, from storage to VM
  • Easily integrated with other automation tools

The cool thing about the plugin is that you can replace homegrown scripts with a pre-written set of plugins fully supported by Dell EMC.

You can also use vRO to implement automated policy based workflows:

  • Automatic extension of datastores;
  • Configure storage the same way every time; and
  • Tracking of operations in a single place.

vRO plugs in to vRealize Automation as well, giving you self service catalogue capabilities along with support for quotas and roles.

What does the vRO plugin support?

Supported Arrays

  • PowerMax / VMAX All-Flash (Enterprise)
  • Unity (Midrange)
  • XtremIO

Storage Provisioning Operations

  • Adds
  • Moves
  • Changes

Array Level Data Protection Services

  • Snapshots
  • Remote replication


Thoughts and Further Reading

DevOps means a lot of things to a lot of people. Which is a bit weird, because some smart folks have written a handbook that lays it all out for us to understand. But the point is that automation is a big part of what makes DevOps work at a functional level. The key to a successful automation plan, though, is that you need to understand what you want to automate, and why you want to automate it. There’s no point automating every process in your organisation if you don’t understand why you do that process in the first place.

Does the presence of a vRO plugin mean that Dell EMC will make it super easy for you to automate daily operations in your storage environment? Potentially. As long as you understand the need for those operations and they’re serving a function in your organisation. I’m waffling, I know, but the point I’m attempting to make is that having a tool bag / shed / whatever is great, and automating daily processes is great, but the most successful operations environments are mature enough to understand not just the how but the why. Taking what you do every day and automating it can be a terrifically time-consuming activity. The important thing to understand is why you do that activity in the first place.

I’m really pleased that Dell EMC has made this level of functionality available to end users of its storage platforms. Storage administration and operations can still be a complicated endeavour, regardless of whether you’re a storage administrator comfortably ensconced in an operational silo, or one of those cool site reliability engineers wearing jeans to work every day and looking after thousands of cloud-native apps. I don’t think it’s the final version of what these tools look like, or what Dell EMC want to deliver in terms of functionality, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Dell EMC Announces Unity XT And More Cloudy Things

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, Analysts and Influencers program. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.


Dell EMC Unity XT

As part of their storage announcements this week, Dell EMC announced the new Unity XT. Here’s a photo of one from the show floor at Dell Technologies World.

There are two variants of Unity XT, and you can grab the All-Flash data sheet here, and the Hybrid data sheet here. The spec sheet for both flavours is here. There are 8 models in all, and the smallest one in hybrid and all-flash won’t support NVMe (to keep the cost down for smaller customers). I’m told the largest model will scale up to 1500 drives, with Dell EMC revisiting the kind of specs that they had with the VNX 7600 and 8000 range.

From an efficiency perspective, Dell EMC are claiming

  • Up to 5:1 data reduction
  • 85% system efficiency

Wait, what about performance? Dell EMC are telling me the Unity XT delivers up to:

  • 2x More Performance (IOPS)*
  • 75% Lower Latency**
  • 67% Faster performance than competition***

Like all performance claims, there are a few caveats:

  • *100% reads, 100% writes & mixed workload – compared to previous generation
  • ** @ 150K IOPS, 8K block size, 70/30 R/W ratio
  • *** Compared to leading vendor


Dell Storage and the Cloud

It’s a multi-cloud world. And Dell EMC have been working to make sure their involved in various cloud things, including:

  • Dell Technologies Cloud Platform (certified with Unity and PowerMax);
  • Cloud Data Services;
  • Cloud Connected Systems; and
  • Cloud Data Insights.

Dell Technologies Cloud Platform

This was a reasonably significant announcement, and I’ll be covering it in a separate article.


Cloud Data Services

Dell EMC are also offering a range of storage and protection data services available in the public cloud provider of your choice.

Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services

Dell EMC have announced that Early Access is coming soon for Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services Integrated with Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for File.

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

  • Ideal for HPC applications, analytics, media and entertainment, life sciences, etc.
  • Backed by enterprise SLAs
  • Pay-as-you-use pricing
  • Proactive monitoring, maintenance, and hardware life- cycle management

They’ve also announced that Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services is now available.

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

  • Fast – High-speed, low latency connection to the cloud;
  • Trusted – Durable, persistent storage with up to 6-9’s availability and enterprise grade security; and
  • Flexible – Control your data with multi-cloud agility; Independently scale capacity and compute.


DR Services

The cool thing about cloud data services is that you can do cool things with them, such as using VMC on AWS for Automated Disaster Recovery

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

Dell EMC tell me it’s a:

  • Seamlessly integrated VMware environment;
  • Delivering automated DR operations;
  • With enterprise-grade, pay- as-you-go DRaaS;
  • You only pay for compute in the cloud when failover occurs; and
  • This gives you access to lower RPOs and RTOs

It’s a multi-cloud world though, so you can also access multiple cloud providers for Disaster Recovery.

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

The benefits of this approach are numerous, including:

  • No secondary DC to manage;
  • Enterprise-grade infrastructure;
  • A Pay-as-you-go model;
  • Only pay for compute in the cloud in the event of a failure; and
  • Lower RPOs.

And it wouldn’t be multi-cloud capable if you couldn’t do other cool stuff like workload migration, analytics and more:

  • Flexible, multi-cloud support;
  • No vendor lock-in with data independent of the cloud;
  • Leverage cloud(s) of choice based on application needs;
  • Reduce risk with centralised, durable storage; and
  • Fast, low cost set up – no additional infrastructure to setup or manage.

Cloud Data Insights

Proactively monitor and manage infrastructure and data with intelligent cloud-based analytics. With CloudIQ you get access to a few neat things, including:

Predictive Modelling

  • Capacity Forecasting
  • Competing Workload Analysis

Accelerated Resolution

  • 3X Faster Insight
  • Performance Anomaly Detection

Broader Support

  • Primary Storage Portfolio
  • VMware
  • Connectrix
  • Isilon and PowerVault*

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

Dell EMC ClarityNow

  • Single pane of glass view of all file and object storage;
  • Accelerated scan and indexing of unstructured data;
  • High-speed search across heterogeneous storage;
  • Detailed reporting with chargeback views; and
  • Data mobility for self-service archive in cloud.

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]


Thoughts and Further Reading

The Unity XT is an evolution of the Unity line, rather than a revolutionary array. Dell EMC are doing all the things you’d expect them to do with their midrange line, including improving performance and adding support for NVMe on most of the models. I imagine people still have questions about the breadth of Dell EMC’s storage portfolio, with a range of products available from Unity to SC to XtremIO to PowerMax. There’s also Isilon dominating the file options, and ECS delivering some interesting object capabilities. It’s clear there’s still some room for consolidation, but I think it’s smart that Dell EMC have stuck with the “portfolio company” line. Instead of having too many options, the idea is that they can see you exactly what you want. They are, after all, in the business of making money. And if people want to keep buying Compellent, then Dell EMC are going to keep selling it to them. At least in the near term.

The Cloud Data Services announcements are also interesting. I’ve seen plenty of those cloud-native folks question why you’d want something like Isilon running on GCP. But those people aren’t really the ones who’l’ benefit from these types of solutions. Rather, it’s the enterprise who’ve built up particular workloads that rely on file, but still need to shift some of those workloads to a public cloud provider. Remember, not every tech company goes out and builds products without having a user base that has asked for said products. Dell EMC are very much in the camp of not doing things without having a quantifiable appetite from the customer base.

I’m glad I don’t work in a job where I have to manage lots of storage devices anymore. Because I’m not so sure I’d like to do it on my mobile phone. But the ability to view the health of these devices via an app is appealing. Sure, you’re not going to necessarily want to use element managers on your phone, but whne you need to know that status of something without diving too deep, something like CloudIQ becomes super useful. As does the ability to see all of your devices in one place with ClarityNow.

I didn’t hear anything revolutionary in Dell EMC’s storage announcements this year, but they continue to stay the course, and they’re setting the scene for bigger things to come. For another perspective, you can read Max’s thoughts on the storage announcements here. I’m looking forward to digging in to what Dell Technologies Cloud really means, and hope to have something out on that in the next week or so.

Dell EMC News From VMworld US 2018

I’m not at VMworld US this year, but I had the opportunity to be briefed by Sam Grocott (Dell EMC Cloud Strategy) on some of Dell EMC‘s key announcements during the event, and thought I’d share some of my rough notes and links here. You can read the press release here.


It is a multi-cloud world. Multi-cloud requires workload mobility. The market requires a consistent experience between on-premises and off-premises. Dell EMC are doing some more stuff around that.


Cloud Platforms

Dell EMC offer a number of engineered systems to run both IaaS and cloud native applications.


Starting with vSphere 6.7, Dell EMC are saying they’re delivering “near” synchronous software releases between VMware and VxRail. In this case that translates to a less than 30 Day delta between releases. There’s also support for:

VxRack SDDC with VMware Cloud Foundation

  • Support for latest VCF releases – VCF 2.3.2, and future proof for next generation VMware cloud technologies
  • Alignment with VxRail hardware options – P, E, V series VxRail models, now including Storage Dense S-series
  • Configuration flexibility


Cloud-enabled Infrastructure

Focus is on the data

  • Cloud data mobility;
  • Cloud data protection;
  • Cloud data services; and
  • Cloud control.

Cloud Data Protection

  • DD Cloud DR – keep copies of VM data from on-premises DD to public cloud and orchestrate failover of workloads to the cloud
  • Data Protection Suite – use cloud storage for backup and retention
  • Cloud Snapshot Manager – Backup and recovery for public cloud workloads (Now MS Azure)
  • Data Domain virtual edition running in the cloud

DD VE 4.0 Enhancements

  • KVM support added for DD VE on-premises
  • In-cloud capacity expanded to 96TB (was 16TB)
  • Can run in AWS, Azure and VMware Cloud

Cloud Data Services

Dell EMC have already announced services such as:

And now you can get Dell EMC UnityVSA Cloud Edition.

UnityVSA Cloud Edition

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

  • Up to 256TB file systems
  • VMware Cloud on AWS


  • No cost, SaaS offering
  • Predictive analytics – intelligently project capacity and performance
  • Anomaly detection – leverage ML to pinpoint deviations
  • Proactive health – identify risks before they impact the environment

Enhancements include:

Data Domain Cloud Tier

There are some other Data Domain related enhancements, including new AWS support (meaning you can have a single vendor for Long Term Retention).


ECS enhancements have also been announced, with a 50%+ increase in storage capacity and compute.



As would be expected from a company with a large portfolio of products, there’s quite a bit happening on the product enhancement front. Dell EMC are starting to get that they need to be on-board with those pesky cloud types, and they’re also doing a decent job of ensuring their private cloud customers have something to play with as well.

I’m always a little surprised by vendors offering “Cloud Editions” of key products, as it feels a lot like they’re bolting on something to the public cloud when the focus could perhaps be on helping customers get to a cloud-native position sooner. That said, there are good economic reasons to take this approach. By that I mean that there’s always going to be someone who thinks they can just lift and shift their workload to the public cloud, rather than re-factoring their applications. Dell EMC are providing a number of ways to make this a fairly safe undertaking, and products like Unity Cloud Edition provide some nice features such as increased resilience that would be otherwise lacking if the enterprise customer simply dumped its VMs in AWS as-is. I still have hope that we’ll stop doing this as an industry in the near future and embrace some smarter ways of working. But while enterprises are happy enough to spend their money on doing things like they always have, I can’t criticise Dell EMC for wanting a piece of the pie.

Dell Technologies World 2018 – storage.38 – Dell EMC Unity: Performance Best Practices Notes

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2018.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Press, Analysts and Influencers program. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Here are my rough notes from the storage.38 session. This was presented by Stephen Wright and covered Dell EMC Unity: Performance Best Practices. Firstly, though, you should read Dell EMC’s Unity Best Practices Guide.

Dell EMC Midrange Family

SC Series and Dell EMC Unity

Common Tools

  • PowerPath
  • ViPR
  • RecoverPoint
  • Avamar and NetWorker
  • Data Domain

Industry’s #1 Midrange Portfolio

SC Series

  • Intelligent Efficiency
    • Post-process data reduction
  • Federated
    • Data mobility across multiple systems
  • Best economics
    • Low entry price
    • Lowest $/GB

Dell EMC Unity

  • Inline efficiency
    • Inline data reduction
  • Unified
    • Unified file and block data
  • Integrated hybrid cloud
    • Unified cloud tiering



  • What is Performance? What are “Best Practices”?
  • Evolution of storage best practices


  • Unity All-Flash considerations
  • Unity Hybrid considerations


  • Data reduction, snapshots, replication



What is Performance?

“The ability to do the requested work in the required period of time”

  • IOPs (small transactions), MB/s (bulk data)
  • Latency and Response Time (Individual transactions)
  • Window, Job (Batch transactions)

What are Best Practices?

Configuration Guidance

  • Recommendations for options
  • Advice based o experience
  • Responsive to your application
  • Best behaviour for your needs

Evolution of Storage Best Practices

Unity Simplicity

  • Removes the need for detailed tweaking
  • Let the system do the right thing for you

Unified File and Block – same recommendations apply

  • One set of common guidance

Flash – changes the game for storage performance

  • Stress on other components

Quantum Leap of Flash

Recommended maximum IOPS per drive – don’t use these for sizing – these numbers are speed limits and are generally based on small-block random workloads.

  • NL-SAS – 150 IOPS
  • SAS 10K RPM – 250 IOPS
  • SAS 15K RPM – 350 IOPS
  • Flash – 20000 IOPS

The Flash Effect, and CPU utilisation

  • Flash is fast, and Dell EMC Unity can support hundreds of drives
  • Driving a lot of Flash can take a lot of CPU power
  • Provide best practices around CPU utilisation
Average CPU Utilisation Below 50% 50% to 70% 70% to 90% Above 90%
Latency Yes Yes Yes Caution
High Availability Yes Yes Caution No

Approaching Best Practices: AFA or Hybrid?

Hardware Considerations

  • All-Flash
    • Drives are most likely not a bottleneck
    • Focus on maximising other hardware resources
  • Hybrid
    • HDD performance can be determining factor
    • A little Flash can add a lot of capability


  • Data reduction
  • Snapshots
  • Replication
  • Both block and file

CPU Power and Flash Considerations

With All-Flash, CPU becomes the driving factor

  • CPU power has largest impact on achievable performance
  • Memory has largest impact on scalability

As of 4.3 online data-in-place conversions now available

Balanced Access – Back-end SAS

At least use the two onboard

  • Maybe you also want the SAS expansion? (Up to 6 buses)

Largest impact is on bandwidth. Dell EMC advertise 5GB/s of bandwidth through the SAS bus.

Flash drives per bus recommendation? Take how ever many you have, and spread them across the buses you have

Balanced access – FC Ports

  • For HA, zone 1 initiator to 1 port from SPA, 1 port from SPB
  • For HA + load balancing, zone 2 ports per SP
  • Cable and use as many front-end ports as possible
  • We recommend at least 4 ports per SP in U3x0 and U4x0
  • At least 6 ports per SP in U5x0 and U6x0

Balanced Access – Unity File

  • Balance resource utilisation with file
    • Means multiple NAS Servers
    • Using multiple Ethernet ports (can leverage LACP)
    • Failsafe Networking (FSN)

Front-end port considerations

  • Speed is good – use faster ports when available
  • Understand port limits – consult best practices guide
  • Use more ports – better distribution across cores

Hybrid Considerations

  1. All previous considerations
  2. Size for HDD constraints
  3. Leverage Flash Tier, FAST VP
  4. Configure FAST Cache

FAST VP is at the pool level, FAST Cache is a global resource


Feature Considerations

Features Overview

In Dell EMC Unity, all system resources are always available

  • Architectural philosophy
  • CPUs are note reserved for any particular process

Features requires resources

  • Use additional CPU and may add drive IOPS
  • CPU cycles can shift as defined workload changes

e.g. RAID 6 may take a little more CPU than RAID 1/0. Same goes for Snapshots, data reduction and replication.

Decision Tree for Enabling Features

  • Understand that enabling a feature may increase CPU utilisation
  • This chart represents average CPU before implementing feature
Average CPU Utilisation Below 50% 50% to 70% 70% to 90% Above 90%
Snapshots / Replication Yes Yes Caution No
Data Reduction Yes Caution Caution No


Data Reduction

Prior to 4.3, offered compression

As of OE v4.3, deduplication has been added, and together these provide data reduction

Data reduction

  • Block and file objects
  • All-Flash pools
  • Enabled together
  • Automatically licensed

How does it work?

  • Data acknowledged in write cache
  • Check for patterns
  • Compress data if needed

Improved Performance

  • Reduced overhead when pattern is found
  • Code optimisations


  • Latency impacts
  • CPU resource consumption
  • Refer to decision tree


  • Use less aggressive snapshot schedules (number of objects increases – decrease the snapshot schedule frequency)
  • Stagger snapshot schedules

Asynchronous replication

  • Leverages snapshots
    • Similar considerations
    • RPO = snapshot schedule
    • Longer RPOs with lots of replicated objects
  • Consider port capabilities
    • Multiple links per SP
    • Higher speed ports

Synchronous Replication

  • Real-time replication over FC link
  • Latency is key
  • Zone so that clients are not on the replication link



Appropriate Model

  • Choose the right model, based on CPU power
  • Online Data-in-place conversions to move to more powerful model
  • Consider differences between All-Flash and Hybrid

Enough Hardware

  • Have enough drives / enclosures / ports?
  • Utilise all ports

Flash Acceleration

  • Start with Flash
  • All-Flash
  • Flash tier (Hybrid)

Plan for features

  • Consider CPU consumption
  • Snapshot schedules
  • Replication RPOs


Useful session. 4 stars.

Dell EMC’s in the Midst of a Midrange Resurrection

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 13.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day and Pure Storage. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.


Dell EMC presented on their Unity range of midrange storage at Storage Field Day 13 recently. You can see video of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


We’re Talking About Unity, Man

All of the Software

Dell EMC have been paying attention to their customers, and all of the software for Unity is now included:

  • Block, File or VVol
  • Snapshots and AppSync Basic
  • Replication (including RecoverPoint Basic)
  • Inline compression
  • D@RE
  • AV enabler
  • QoS
  • Cloud Tiering
  • Unisphere (now running on HTML-5, die Java, die!)

There’s no need to go hunting for licenses or enablers like we had to in the VNX and CLARiiON days. This is a good thing, and tells me a lot about Dell EMC’s willingness to listen to customers when they say they want this stuff to be simple to consume without a bunch of extra costs.



Dell EMC tell us that the Unity array is built on an active-active, fully redundant, dual node architecture. I can’t confirm whether this is the case or not, but I’m fairly sure that it’s an improvement on the ALUA days of yore. The Unity is also really a unified design now, with file, block or VMware Virtual Volume storage sharing the same pool of storage. Again, this is a significant improvement over the somewhat cludgy “Unified” approach that EMC took with the VNX range of arrays.

Dell EMC claim that the Unity array takes “10 minutes to install and 30 minutes to production”. I’m not sure how I feel about these numbers, and I’m not sure I’d make purchasing decisions based on how long it takes me to put some storage in a rack. Heck, I’ve worked in environments where it takes 2 hours to fill out the change request forms to deploy the arrays, and another 4 days to get these activities approved. I guess it’s nice to know that at the end of that administrative pain you could jam this gear in a rack pretty quickly and focus on other, more interesting activities.

Dell EMC are positioning the Unity as “compact and powerful: cloud integrated 500TB all-flash in 2RU”. Not unlike the Mazda3, you get a lot in a fairly compact form factor. And you likely won’t pay huge amounts for it either. Cloud integrated means a lot of things to a lot of people, but Dell EMC have been paying attention to what the likes of Pure Storage and Nimble Storage have been doing, and have delivered a pretty cool offering in CloudIQ, and I’m optimistic that the rest of Dell EMC’s tools will be following suit, if they haven’t already.


The Midrange Isn’t Dead

Okay, people weren’t actually saying that midrange is dead. But sometimes it feels like the focus has been on a lot of other things, like super scale out, hyper-object storage and terribly sexy, high-end all flash storage that runs to a large number of petabytes and connects directly into a port at the base of the end user’s skull. Added to that Dell EMC have had to do some careful balancing of product portfolios, and doing a pretty decent job of selling the benefits of both the Unity and SC series. I’ve had exposure to both products over time, and can see the good in each line of products. It’s not unreasonable to expect that they’ll merge in the future, but when this future will be is anyone’s guess. When Unity initially launched it felt a bit rushed (you can read my coverage here and here). Dell EMC have been working pretty hard to smooth out some of the roughness and bring to market some cool features that were missing in the first iteration of the product.

I’ve been fond of midrange arrays for a long time. The damn things tend to just run, and you can’t walk into most data centres without bumping into some kind of midrange array. Sometimes, midrange is really all you need to get the job done. And there’s no shame in that either. We’re also seeing a bunch of features that were traditionally considered “high-end” being implemented further down the stack. This should only be considered a good thing.


Further Reading

You can download the Unity Simulator here, and read my thoughts on Dell EMC’s midrange update from Dell EMC World 2017 here. You can also grab a copy of the Dell EMC Unity VSA from here.


Dell EMC Announces Midrange Storage Line Enhancements

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell EMC World 2017.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell EMC via the Dell EMC Elect program. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Midrange Overview

Dell EMC today announced a number of new midrange storage models and enhancements. According to Dell EMC the midrange is still a big market and they estimate 7% growth over the next 5 years (I may have misheard though). As such, they’re positioning the new midrange family, comprised of the Unity and SC (Compellent) platforms. The goal is to provide common tools for management, mobility and protection (namely PowerPath, ViPR, VPLEX, RecoverPoint, Connectrix, and Data Domain).


Glad you asked. Dell EMC are positioning the two sides of the family as follows:


  • All Flash – simple, flash density, inline efficiency, consistent response time, cloud tier
  • Unified – unified file and block, app, software defined or converged, data in place upgrades

SC Series

  • Hybrid – granular tiering, 0-100% Flash, efficiency for hybrid
  • Best economics – intelligent compression and dedupe, persistent software licenses

It’s obviously not always going to be that cut and dried, but it’s a start.



So, what’s new with Unity? There’ll be new “F” models available from Q2 2017. There’ll also be new code released to support the new line. This will be installable on previous-generation Unity models as well. Note that, according Dell EMC, Unity hybrid isn’t going anywhere.


Speeds and Feeds

  Unity 350F Unity 450F Unity 550F Unity 650F
Processor 6core / 1.7GHz 10core / 2.2GHz 14core / 2.4GHz 14core / 2.4GHz
96GB Memory 128GB Memory 256GB Memory 512GB Memory
Capacity 150 Drives 250 Drives 500 Drives 1000 Drives
2.4PB 4PB 8PB 16PB
Volume 1000 @ 256TB 1500 @ 256TB 2000 @ 256TB 6000 @ 256TB
9000 @ 64TB 9000 @ 64TB 13500 @ 64TB 30000 @ 64TB
1000 @ 256TB 1500 @ 256TB 2000 @ 256TB 4000 @ 256TB
Snaps 8000 14000 20000 30000
256 per volume 256 per volume 256 per volume 256 per volume



Do you hate Java? I do. As do most people who had to use Java-based Unisphere. With Unity Dell EMC have provided a more modern, user-friendly approach to array management.

  • HTML-5 based Unisphere
  • CloudIQ
  • Unified CLI and REST API


Architected for All Flash

Dell EMC tell me the Unity array is “architected for all flash”. It certainly has a lot of the features you’d expect from an all flash array, including:

  • 3D TLC NAND flash drive for all IO types;
  • Multi-core optimized for best CPU utilisation and low latency;
  • Automatic flash wear balance;
  • Zero impact drive firmware based garbage collection;
  • Per object in-memory log for consistent low response time;
  • Write coalescing with full stripe writes to minimise IO;
  • Inline compression; and
  • Mix different flash drive types and capacities for lowest cost.



If you’ve been tracking the Unity you may have noticed the continuous introduction of support for larger drives. With the introduction of the “Dense Shelf”, you’re now looking at 500TB of capacity per RU. That, as they say, is a lot of capacity.

Q2 2016 3.2TB (32TB usable per RU)
Q3 2016 7.6TB (76TB usable per RU)
3.84TB (38TB usable per RU)
Q4 2016 Inline compression (300TB effective per RU)
15.4TB (152TB usable per RU)
Q2 2017 Dense shelf – 500TB effective per RU – 80 drives in 3RU form factor


Dynamic Pools
Unlike standard pools you can now add single drives (distributes the spare capacity and improves the rebuild time). I’ll be digging into this feature a bit more in the future (hopefully).


File System

The u64 file system was introduced with the Unity and has had a bit of an uplift in terms of capacity. It now scales to 256TB usable capacity per file system with 10M+ sub-directories and files. The cool thing is it also supports inline compression on the file system using pointer-based snaps with simple space reclaim and low IO impact. There’s also a cloud archiving and tiering capability. This provides policy-based transparent archival of files to public or private cloud (Virtustream by preference, but I believe there’s also support for Azure and AWS).


Snapshot Mobility

As of Q2 you’ll have the ability to move snapshots from array to array (local to remote to cloud).


Thin clones

  • Deduplicate / shared data set
  • Independent LUNs
  • Independent snap / replication schedules
  • Fast create / populate and restore


Dell EMC are keen as beans for you to have a good experience getting stuff onto your shiny new Unity array. As such they offer a built-in, integrated migration tool (that you run from Unisphere). It:

  • Supports FC, iSCSI, NFS (2H 2016) and SMB (H1 2017) migration from VNX;
  • Migrates LUNs, file systems, quotas, ACLs and exports; and is
  • Transparent to file applications and minimally disruptive for block.

Existing Unity customers will also be able to do data in place (DIP) upgrades online (from 2H 2017).


SC Series

Speeds and Feeds

I haven’t kept up with the SC line in recent years, so I found this table handy. You might too.

  SCv20X0 SC 5020 SC 7020 SC 9000
Processor 4core / 3.6GHz 8core / 2.4GHz 2x8core / 2.5GHz 2x8core / 3.2GHz
16GB Memory 128GB Memory 256GB Memory 512GB Memory
Capacity 168 Drives 222 Drives 500 Drives 1024 Drives
672TB 2PB 3PB 4PB
Volumes 1000 LUNs / Vvols 2000 LUNs / Vvols 2000 LUNs / Vvols 2000 LUNs / Vvols
500TB per volume 500TB per volume 500TB per volume 500TB per volume
Snapshots 2000 4096 16384 32000

Note a DIP upgrade from SC 4020 can also get you to the SC 5020.


Flexible Configuration

Dell EMC are positioning the SC line of arrays as a flexible approach to configuration. Offering a range of performance options, pricing and configurations.

  • All flash, some flash or no flash
  • Start with one configuration and convert to another
  • Designed to fit any workload and budget


Drive Efficiency

  • Activate on lowest tier of media
  • Easy on/off selectable by volume
  • data efficiency works in the background on “inactive” data
  • post-process operation ensures no impact to active data IO after data has been moved from active to inactive tier
  • best for environments (hybrid) that do not require 24x7x365 consistent response time


Intelligent Compression and Deduplication

The SC range has always been about the efficient storage of data. Dell EMC think they’re onto a good thing with intelligent deduplication and compression. I’m keen to see it working for myself before I get too excited.

  • Directs all incoming writes to dynamically partitioned “write” space (R10) on Tier 1 drives
  • Moves inactive data from “write” space to space efficient space (R5/6) on same or other tiers
  • Post-process operation compresses / dedupes inactive data


Investment Protection

Dell EMC don’t want you to feel like you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You may have been an EMC customer before Dell acquired them. Or maybe you’ve dabbled with EqualLogic arrays. That’s okay, you get a certain level of “Investment protection” via cross platform replication.

  • SC Series <-> PS Series via Replication
  • SC Series <-> VMAX, XtremIO, Unity via RecoverPoint VM Replication



Time to throw out your MD devices? Never fear, there’s a built-in migration path from “Legacy”.

  • Migrates LUNs (no snaps) from PS and MD (2H 2017) series to SC Series
  • Built-in solution: self-service without requiring any third-party tool
  • Offers both offline and online thin import depending on use case
  • Online minimally disruptive: requires unmount and mount



Dell EMC offer both centralised and web-based management for the SC series.

HTML5-based Unisphere for SC (that’s right!)

  • Compatible with most modern browsers
  • Unisphere style modern look and feel
  • No separate download or install required


  • Central monitoring and reporting for midrange
  • Cloud-based
  • Support for planning and optimisation

Dell Storage Manager

  • Central management and monitoring of SC and PS arrays
  • Advanced features
  • Supports up to 10 arrays



In terms of “family”, this announcement positions the midrange offering from Dell EMC as more Brady Bunch than Manson family. This is a good thing in my opinion. I’ve seen firsthand some of the opposition put up by EMC or Dell customers prior to the merger, and other vendors have certainly been licking their chops hoping the whole thing would prove too hard and Dell EMC would lose their way. Whilst it would be overly optimistic (and naïve) to expect them to consolidate the midrange platform to one line of arrays in such a short amount of time, the Unity and SC lines cover all the bases and show signs of future, further streamlining activities.

I cut my teeth (figuratively) on an old CLARiiON FC4700 and have watched the progression over the years of the EMC midrange offering. Similarly I have plenty of customers who’ve helped themselves to PS, SC and MD arrays. It’s nice to see all this cool tech coming together. While midrange isn’t anywhere near as sexy as massively scalable object storage, it performs an important function for a wide range of businesses small and large and shouldn’t be ignored. As with other product announcements I cover here, if you have particular queries about the products I recommend you engage with your local Dell EMC team in the first instance. The new Dell EMC Unity All-Flash models will be orderable this month and available in July. The SC5020 is orderable this month and will be generally available in June. If you want it from the horse’s mouth, you can read blog posts from Dell EMC covering the announcements around Unity here and SC series here.

EMC Announces Unity – Part 2

I covered EMC‘s announcement of their new Unity platform in an earlier post, and thought it would be worthwhile following up on a few key points around data protection and protocol support.


Data Protection with Unity

You can do a bunch of the high level local and remote protection management through Unisphere, including:

  • Scheduling snapshots
  • Viewing system defined schedules
  • Modifying protection options
  • Customizing schedules based on your SLAs
  • Configuring replication
  • Managing replication operations such as session failover and failback
  • Viewing replication session states and statuses

Unified Snapshots provide:

  • Point-in-time snapshot copies of data;
  • Snapshots for both block and file resources (finally!); and
  • Snapshots are used as the foundation for native asynchronous replication on Unity.

The following table provides information on the limits with snapshots on the Unity platform.


You can asynchronously replicate file and block data from Unity to Unity or Unity VSA, VNXe, or vVNX. How do I get my VNX data onto the Unity array? EMC say that RecoverPoint is your best bet for array replication activities from the VNX1 or 2 to the Unity platform. If you’re looking at data migration options, the following table may help.



Protocols and Filesystems

There’s a fair bit of support for more “modern” iterations of SMB and NFS. These are outlined below:

SMB share options

  • Continuous Availability
  • Protocol Encryption
  • Access Based Enumeration (ABE)
  • Distributed File System (DFS)
  • Branch Cache
  • Offline Availability
  • Umask

Supported Features

  • Dynamic access control
  • Hyper-V shared VHDX
  • Antivirus

NFS V4.0 & 4.1

Unity introduces support for NFS v4.0 & 4.1

  • Functionality described in RFC 3530 & RFC 5661
  • Includes NFS ACL
  • Stateful protocol unlike earlier NFS versions

Note, however, the following exceptions

  • No pNFS
  • No directory delegation


Unity supports accessing NAS Servers via FTP and SFTP

  • This can be enabled and disabled independently
  • Accessible by Windows, Unix, and anonymous users

Access control lists

  • Enable or disable access for users, groups, and hosts

FTP/SFTP auditing can be configured on the NAS Server

  • Client IP, time of connection, uploaded/downloaded files
  • Log directory and maximum log size are configurable

EMC have also delivered a new scalable filesystem. This filesystem is a 64-bit filesystem that delivers range of file services, including:

  • Scalability to 64TBs;
  • Space efficient Snapshots;
  • The ability to shrink a file system and reclaim that space;
  • Support for up to 256 VMDK clones;
  • Fast failover;
  • In-Memory Log Replay is an improvement to the file system’s ability to quickly recover its state in the event of an ungraceful shutdown. The advantage of this is a faster failover time; and
  • Improved quota management

The following table provides some more information on the supported configuration maximums for filesystems across the Unity platform.



FAST Cache

The following options are available for FAST Cache configuration on the new Unity arrays.


Note also the following improvements (both of which I think are pretty neat from an operational perspective)

  • FAST Cache supports online expansion – up to the system maximum; and
  • FAST Cache supports online shrink – you now have the ability to remove all but 1 FAST Cache pair.


Maintenance Options

EMC have been paying attention to the like of Pure and Nimble with their long life maintenance programs designed to be a little kinder to customers wanting to keep their systems for more than five minutes. As such EMC customers can now “Xpect More” for all-flash systems, with Unity (all-flash) customers being guaranteed:

  • Lifetime maintenance pricing for their Unity all-flash;
  • Investment protection on flash drives that need to be replaced or repaired; and
  • Lifetime flash endurance protection.

Obviously I recommend reading the fine print about this program, but on the face of it it certainly warrants further investigation.



You’re probably asking if there is a CLI available for Unity, like naviseccli (Navisphere Secure CLI). After all, naviseccli is pretty awesome, and you’ve no doubt spent hours getting a bunch of stuff automated with just naviseccli and a dream. The good news is that yes, you can run UEMCLI commands from your workstation or via SSH on the system. The bad news is that previous custom scripts using naviseccli will not work using Unity UEMCLI.


Other Notes

Here are a few other points that I found interesting:

  • Inline compression is due before the end of the calendar year, and a deduplication option is yet to be made available for the platform.
  • There is a limit of 10 DAEs, 250 drives per bus (same as the VNX2).
  • Unity doesn’t have 60 or 120-drive DAEs, but there is a plan under consideration to support a higher number of drives.
  • Data At Rest Encryption (D@RE) is optional software that is only offered at the point of sale and cannot be enabled after the system is purchased. EMC don’t offer D@RE in certain restricted countries, including China and Russia.


Further Reading and Conclusion

[Update] There are a few nice articles that I didn’t see at the time of publication that I think are worth looking at. Dave Henry has a comprehensive write-up on Unity here, Rob Koper has some good coverage here, and Chris Evans has a typically thought-provoking article here that I recommend reading. Finally, Chad Sakac has a comprehensive write-up here that is well worth your time.

If you’ve had to use local protection tools on a unified VNX, you’ll be pleased to see the improvements that EMC have made with regards to coherent features and toolsets across file and block. Likewise if you’ve struggled with the lack of modern protocol support on previous unified offerings, then Unity will be a refreshing change. It’s a bummer that the CLI has changed, but this might be an opportunity to re-evaluate a number of the scripts you’ve been using to get things done previously. If nothing else, it should give me fodder for a few more blog posts along the lines of “I used to do x with naviseccli, now I do y with UEMCLI”. I’m looking forward to digging in further.

EMC Announces Unity – Part 1

EMC recently announced their new midrange array “Unity“. The message from EMC that I’ve heard during various briefings has been that it “eclipses” the VNX and VNXe. What they mean by that  is this. There is no VNX3 platform planned – Unity is EMC’s new midrange storage platform. Of interest though is that there are currently no VNX2 and VNXe EOL dates. EMC are positioning the Unity arrays in between the VNXe1600 and VNXe3200 and the 7600 and 8000 Hybrids. This will make a bit more sense as you read on. and while I’m at it, here’s a box shot, only because it wouldn’t be a product announcement without one of those.



Major Highlights

So what are the exciting parts of the announcement? Well, there are a few good bits that I’ll cover in depth further on.

  • HTML5 GUI – This is big. Java can finally go die in a fire. Or at least get updated on my laptop to something sensible;
  • Native block, file and VVOLS;
  • A new filesystem that goes to 64TB;
  • Unified block and file snapshots and replication;
  • Everything is now in 2RU of rack space – there are no more Control Stations, no more Data Movers.

Also of note is that within 90 days of GA VCE will be delivering these solutions as well.


New Models

There are four new models, with every model having an all-flash and hybrid option (all-flash being denoted by the F).


All models feature:

  • Proactive support
  • Self-service portal
  • System monitoring
  • CloudIQ dashboard and management platform.

EMC talked a bit about the density improvements as well, using the change from a base VNX5800 to the Unity 600F. In this example:

  • The footprint goes from 7RU – 2RU;
  • Cabling goes from 30 cables down to 6;
  • Power consumption is reduced from 1495W to 703W;
  • rack installation time goes from 60min – 2min; and
  • The hero number increases as well, with a benchmark as follows: 101K -> 295K IOPS (Thin LUN, Small block random workloads).

I haven’t put one of these things in a rack yet, nor have I had a chance to do my own testing, so I can only report what EMC are telling me. As always, your mileage might vary.



Are we finally rid of Windows-based FLARE running on SPs? EMC tells me we are. If you’ve been following Chad’s blog you’d have a feel for some of the background architecture that’s gone into Unity. In short, it’s a SUSE-based operating platform with everything (block, VVOLS and file) in a common pool. In my opinion this is kind of what we were hoping to see with VNX2, and it’s good to see it’s finally here.


Some of the features of the new architecture include:

  • A 64-bit, 64TB filesystem (wheee!);
  • Support for IP multi-tenancy;
  • Unified snapshots and replication (it was previously a bit of a mess of different tools);
  • Integrated data copy management (I need to read up on this);
  • Improved Quality of Service (QoS) and quota management;
  • Encryption and anti-virus services; and
  • “Modern” data protection choices.


Storage Pools

Storage Pools have been around since Release 30 of FLARE, but these ones are a bit more capable than their predecessors. All storage resources builds off storage pools. A few of the features include:

  • Modify operations include create, expand, modify, and delete (still no shrink, as best I can tell); and
  • Users can monitor and configure storage pools (good for shops with odd requirements).

Users can also view

  • Current and historical capacity usage;
  • FAST VP relocation and data distribution across storage pool tiers
  • Snapshot storage consumption thresholds and deletion policies

Here’s a handy table listing the maximum capacities for Storage Pools on each Unity model.


Note that the file components live inside what EMC calls “NAS Servers”, which are like virtualised data movers. I’ll be looking into these in more depth in the near future.



Speeds and Feeds

Here’s a table covering off the configurations for the various models (excluding the UnityVSA, which I’ll cover off later). Note that the Unity 500 (F) supports 350 drives initially, with 500 being supported in 2H 16. Note also that the Unity 600 (F) supports 500 drives with 1000 being supported in 2H 16.



A DPE has two Storage Processors (SPs), each with:

  • A single socket CPU Intel Haswell processor with 6-12 cores each
  • DDR4 DIMM slots
  • Embedded ports:
    • 2x 1GbE RJ45 ports (management and service)
    • 2x 10GbE RJ45 ports (front-end)
    • 2x CNA ports (front-end; configured during OE install for either FC or Ethernet)
    • 2x mini-HD SAS ports (12Gb SAS DAE connectivity)
    • 1x USB port
  • Front end connectivity is IP/iSCSI & Fibre Channel
  • Back end connective to drives is 12Gb SAS

All Unity Hybrid models support the 2U drive enclosure which supports up to twenty five 2.5” drives and/or the 3U drive enclosure which supports fifteen  3.5”  drives. Note that the All-Flash models support only the 2U drive enclosure. There is no need for a 3U drive enclosure to be supported as that enclosure is for SAS and NL-SAS.

Here’s a table providing an overview of the (pretty reasonable) range of drives supported.




You’ve already heard about vVNX. I even wrote about it. The UnityVSA takes that same concept and applies it to Unity, which is pretty cool. The following tables provide information on the basic configuration you’ll need in place to get it up and running.


There are a few different editions as well, with the 10TB and greater versions being made available on a yearly subscription basis with EMC Enhanced support. Pricing and capacity is as follows (note that these are US list prices):

  • 4TB – Free, Community supported
  • 10TB – $2995, EMC supported
  • 25TB – $3995, EMC supported
  • 50TB – $4995, EMC supported

Feature parity is there as much as it can be for a virtual system.



Unity Unisphere

I mentioned at the start of this post that Unisphere no longer uses Java. This is seriously good news in my opinion. As well as this, Unity’s new user interface has the following benefits:

  • Eliminates security concerns using browser plugins (that’s right no one likes you Java);
  • A sleek and clean look and feel; and
  • A flat UI, allowing all functions to be accomplished on the first screen in a category (be it file, block or VMware VVOLS).

As a result of the move to HTML5, a wide range of browsers are now supported, including:

  • Google Chrome v33 or later;
  • Internet Explorer v10 or later;
  • Mozilla Firefox v28 or later; and
  • Apple Safari v6 or later.

Here’s a screenshot of the new UI, and you can see that it’s a lot different to Navisphere and Unisphere.




I’ve worked with EMC midrange gear for a long time now, and it forms the bread and butter of a number of the solutions I sell and work on on a daily basis. While the VNX2 has at times looked a little long in the tooth, the Unity platform has (based on what I’ve been told so far) shaken off the rust and delivers a midrange array that feels a whole lot more modern than previous iterations of the EMC midrange. I’ll be interested to see how these things go in the field and am looking forward to putting them through their paces from a technical perspective. If you’re in the market for a new mid-range solution it wouldn’t hurt to talk to EMC about the Unity platform.