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.

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