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.

 

Architecture

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.