What the Dell just happened? – Dell Storage Forum Sydney 2012 – Part 2

Disclaimer: I recently attended the Dell Storage Forum Sydney 2012.  My flights and accommodation were covered by Dell, however 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.

Part 2

In this post I’d like to touch briefly on some of the sessions I went to and point you in the direction of some further reading. I’m working on some more content for the near future.


Dell AppAssure Physical, Virtual and Cloud Recovery

If you’re unfamiliar with AppAssure, head over to their website for a fairly comprehensive look at what they can do. Version 5 was recently released. Dan Moz has been banging on about this product to me for a while, and it actually looks pretty good. Andrew Diamond presented a large chunk of the content while battling some time constraints thanks to the keynote running over time, while Dan was demo boy. Here’s a picture with words (a diagram, if you will) that gives an idea of what AppAssure can do.

(Image source – http://www.appassure.com/downloads/Transform_Data_Protection_with_Dell_AppAssure.pdf)

Live Recovery is one of my favourite features. With this it’s “not even necessary to wait for a complete restore to be able to access and use the data”. This is really handy when you’re trying to recover 100s of GB of file data but don’t know exactly what the users will want to access first.

Recovery Assure “detects the presence of Microsoft Exchange and SQL and its respective databases and log files and automatically groups the volumes with dependency for comprehensive protection and rapid recovery”. The cool thing here is that you’re going to be told if there’s going to be SNAFU when you recover before you recover. It’s not going to save your bacon every time, but it’s going to help with avoiding awkward conversations with the GM.

In the next few weeks I’m hoping to put together a more detailed brief on what AppAssure can and can’t do.


A Day in the Life of a Dell Compellent Page: How Dynamic Capacity, Data Instant Replay and Data Progression Work Together

Compellent bought serious tiering tech to Dell upon acquisition, and has really driven the Fluid Data play that’s going on at the moment. This session was all about “closely following a page from first write to demotion to low-cost disk”. Sound dry? I must admit it was a little. It was also, however, a great introduction to how pages move about the Compellent and what that means to storage workloads and efficiency. You can read some more about the Compellent architecture here.

The second half of the session comprised a customer testimonial (an Australian on-line betting company) and brief Q & A with the customer. It was good to see that the customer was happy to tell the truth when pushed about some of the features of the Compellent stack and how it had helped and hurt in his environment. Kudos to my Dell AE for bringing up the question of how FastTrack has helped only to watch the customer reluctantly admit it was one of the few problems he’d had since deploying the solution.


Media Lunch ‘Fluid Data and the Storage Evolution’

When I was first approached about attending this event, the idea was that there’d be a blogger roundtable. For a number of reasons, including availability of key people, that had to be canned and I was invited to attend the media lunch instead. Topics covered during the lunch were basically the same as the keynote, but in a “lite” format. There was also two customers providing testimonials about Dell and how happy they were with their Compellent environments. It wasn’t quite the event that Dell had intended, at least from a blogger perspective, but I think they’re very keen to get more of this stuff happening in the future, with some more focus on the tech rather than the financials. At least, I hope that’s the case.


On the Floor

In the exhibition hall I got to look at some bright shinies and talk to some bright folks about new products that have been released. FluidFS (registration required) is available across the Equallogic, Compellent and PowerVault range now. “With FluidFS, our unified storage systems can manage up to 1PB of file data in a single namespace”. Some people were quite excited about this. I had to check out the FS8600, which is the new Compellent Unified offering.

I also had a quick look at the Dell EqualLogic PS-M4110 Blade Array which is basically a PS4000 running in a blade chassis. You can have up to 4 of these things in a single M1000e chassis, and they support 14 2.5″ drives in a variety of combinations. Interestingly you can only have 2 of these in a single group, so you would need 2 groups per chassis if you fully populated it.

Finally I took a brief gander at a PS6500 Series machine. These are 4RU EQL boxes that take up to 48 spindles and basically can give you a bunch of tiering in a big box with a fairly small footprint.



As an attendee at the event I was given a backpack, water bottle, some pens, a SNIA Dictionary and a CommVault yo-yo. I’ll let you know if I won a laptop.

I may or may not have had some problems filling out my registration properly though.





















Thanks, etc

For an inaugural event, I thought the Dell Storage Forum was great, and I’m stoked that vendors are starting to see the value in getting like-minded folk in the same place to get into useful tech stuff, rather than marketing fluff. Thanks to @DanMoz for getting me down there as a blogger in the first place and for making sure I had everything I needed while I was there. Thanks also to the Dell PR and Events people and the other Dell folks who took the time to say hi and check that everything was cool. It was also nice to meet Simon Sharwood in real life, after reading his articles on The Register and stalking him on twitter.

What the Dell just happened? – Dell Storage Forum Sydney 2012 – Part 1

Disclaimer: I recently attended the Dell Storage Forum Sydney 2012.  My flights and accommodation were covered by Dell, however 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.






Rather than give you an edited transcript of the sessions I attended, I thought it would be easier if I pointed out some of the highlights. In the next few weeks I’m going to do some more detailed posts, particularly on AppAssure and some of the new Compellent stuff. This is the first time I’ve paid attention to what was going on on stage in terms of things to blog about, so it might be a bit rough around the edges. If it comes across as a bit of propaganda from Dell, well, it was their show. There was a metric shedload of good information presented on the day and I don’t think I could do it justice in one post. And if I hear one more person mention “fluid architecture” I’ll probably lose it.

Part 1 


Dell is big on the Dell Fluid Data Architecture and they’re starting to execute on that strategy. Introducing the keynote speakers was Jamie Humphrey, Director of Storage and Data Management for Australia & New Zealand. The first speaker introduced was Joe Kremer, Vice President and Managing Director, Dell Australia & New Zealand. He spent some time on the global Dell transformation which involved intellectual property (acquisition and development), progressing Dell’s strategy, and offering solution completeness to customers. He’s also keen to see increased efficiency in the enterprise through standards adoption rather than the use of proprietary systems. Dell are big on simplicity and automation.

Dell is now all about shifting its orientation towards solutions with outcomes rather than the short-term wins they’d previously been focussed on. There have been 24 acquisitions since 2008 (18 since 2010). Perot Systems has apparently contributed significantly in terms of services and reference architectures. There have been 6 storage acquisitions in the last 3 years. Joe also went on to talk about why they went for Equallogic, Compellent, Ocarina, Insite One (a public medical cloud), RNA Networks, AppAssure, Wyse, Force10, and Quest. The mantra seems to be “What do you need? We’ll make it or buy it”. Services people make up the biggest part of the team in Australia now, which is a refreshing change from a few years ago. Dell have also been doing some “on-shoring” of various support teams in Australia, presumably so we’ll feel warm and fuzzy about being that little bit closer to a throat we can choke when we need to.

When Joe was finished, it was time for the expert panel. First up was Brett Roscoe, General Manager and Executive Director, PowerVault and Data Management. He discussed Dell’s opportunity to sell a better “together” story through servers and storage. Nowadays you can buy a closed stack, build it yourself, or do it Dell’s way. Dell wants to put together open storage, server and network to keep costs down, drive automation, ease of use and integration across the product line. The fluid thing is all about everything finding its own level, fitting into whatever container you put it in to. Brett also raised the point that enterprise features from a few years ago are now available in today’s midrange arrays, with midrange prices to match. Dell is keen to keep up the strategy using the following steps: Acquire, Integrate and Innovate. They’re also seeing themselves as the biggest storage start-up in the world, which is a novel concept but makes some sense when you consider the nature of their acquisitions. Dedupe and compression in the filesystem is “coming”. Integration will be the key to Dell successfully executing its strategy. Brett also made some product availability announcements (see On The Floor in Part 2).Brett also had one of the funnier lines of the day – “Before I bring up the smart architect guys, I want to bring up one of our local guys” – when introducing Phil Davis, Vice President, Enterprise Solutions Group, Dell Asia Pacific & Japan to the stage.

They then launched into a series of video-linked whiteboard sessions with a number of “Enterprise Technologists”, with a whiteboard they had setup in front of them being filmed and projected onto the screens in the auditorium so we could see it clearly in the audience. It was a nice way to do the presentation, and a little more engaging than the standard videos and slide deck we normally see with keynotes.

The first discussion was on flash, with a focus on the RNA Networks acquisition. Tim Plaud, Principal Storage Architect at Dell, talked about the move of SSD into the server from the array to avoid the latency. The problem with this? It’s not shared. So why not use it as cache (Fluid Cache)? Devices can communicate with each other over a low latency network using Remote DMA to create a cache pool. Take a 15000 IOPS device in the array, remove the latency (network, controller, SAS) and put it out on the PCI Bus and you can get yourself a 250000 IOPS per device. Now put 4 per server (for Dell 12G servers). How do you protect the write cache? Use cache partners in a physically different server, de-staging in the background in “near real-time”. You can also pick your interface for the cache network. And I’m assuming that Force10 and 40Gb would help here. Servers without the devices can still participate in the cache pool through the use of the software. Cache is de-staged before Replays (snapshots) happen, so the Replays are application- or crash-consistent. Tim also talked about working replication – “Asynchronously, semi-synchronously or truly synchronously”. I’m not sure I want to guess what semi-synchronous is. Upward tiering (to the host), and tiering down / out (to the cloud) is also another strategy that they’re working on.

The second discussion was around how data protection is changing – with RPOs and RTOs getting more insane – driving the adoption of snapshots and replication as protection mechanisms. Mike Davis – Director of Marketing, Storage was called up on stage to talk about AppAssure. He talked about how quickly the application can be back on-line after a failure as the primary driver in a number of businesses. AppAssure promises to do not only the data, but the application state as well, while providing flexible recovery options. AppAssure also promises efficiency through the use of incremental forever and dedupe and compression. AppAssure uses a “Core” server as the primary component – just set one up wherever you might want to recover to – be that a Disaster Recovery site, the cloud, or another environment within the same data centre. You can also use AppAssure to replicate from CMP to EQL to Cloud, etc.

The final topic – software architecture to run in a cloud environment on Equallogic – was delivered by Mark Keating, Director of Storage QA at Dell. He talked about how the array is traditionally comprised of the Management layer / Virtualisation (abstraction) layer / Platform (controllers, drives, RAID, FANs). Dell want to be de-coupling these layers in the future. With Host Virtualized Storage (HVS) they’ll be able to do this, and it’s expected sometime next year. Take the management and virtualisation layer and put them in the cloud as a virtual workload. Use any hardware you want but keep the application integration and scalability of Equallogic (because they love the software on the Equallogic, the rest is just tin). Use cases? Tie it to a virtual application. Make a SAN for Exchange, make one for SQL. Temporary expansion of EQL capacity in the cloud is possible. Use it as a replication target. Multiple “SANs” on the same infrastructure as a means of providing simple multi-tenancy. It’s an interesting concept, and something I’d like to explore further. It also raises a lot of questions about the underlying hardware platform, and just how much you can do with software before being limited by, presumably, the cheap, commodity hardware that it sits on.