Dell adds SSDs in updated EqualLogic line

Dell aims the virtualized storage line at the needs of larger enterprises

Dell is set to update on Wednesday the virtualized storage line it acquired in its purchase of EqualLogic last year, now aiming at the needs of larger enterprises.

The introduction will be part of a larger set of announcements concerning Dell's datacenter strategy, taking place at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. Dell said it is focused on combining servers, storage and services, all optimized for virtualization, in a single architecture. Like other major datacenter vendors, such as IBM and HP, Dell is facing a new end-to-end competitor in Cisco, which last week announced its first blade servers.

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Most storage architectures installed in enterprises today weren't designed to work with virtualized servers, which are being widely adopted. The new EqualLogic PS6000 Series, an upgrade to the already virtualization-oriented PS5000, includes additional features in that area along with higher performance and a new SSD (solid-state disk) option. Prices remain the same, with disk-based systems starting at $17,000.

Dell redesigned the controller for the PS6000 series for higher enterprise performance, delivering twice the cache size, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a faster processor, according to Travis Vigil, a senior manager of the EqualLogic line. The new controller can perform 29 percent faster read performance and 91 percent faster write speed, he said.

More significantly, the company has brought SSDs to the product line. The PS6000S line is designed to offer the low latency and fast data access of SSDs at one-third the price per gigabyte of competing platforms, Vigil said. Dell expects enterprises to use SSDs for applications such as databases and to support virtual desktops. For the latter, IT departments can set up OS images on a centrally controlled platform for individual employees to access on their PCs or other devices. The high speed of SSDs -- three times the I/O operations per second and one-third the latency of a typical disk-based system -- can deliver desktop images in a way that's easy for individuals to use, he said.

The PS6000S is available in a 400GB version with eight 50GB SSDs and an 800GB version with 16 of the drives. Prices start at $25,000.

Along with the new hardware, Dell is offering updated software that supports RAID 6, which allows a disk array to continue operating even with two failed disks. The software also features tight integration with Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor software for virtualization, something it already offered for VMware and Citrix virtualization software. The software also supports VMware's vStorage initiative, designed to offload virtualization tasks from the server CPU to storage controllers.

Software for the PS series is backward compatible with EqualLogic products all the way back to the five-year-old PS100, Vigil said. Except for a few issues such as performance levels, older PS products can have the same capabilities as the latest gear and they can all be managed together, with load-balancing, he said.

Dell is also introducing SAN Headquarters, a software package for managing multiple SANs in an enterprise with up to 10 petabytes of capacity. SAN Headquarters combines monitoring and alerting in one module, providing performance history and identifying bottlenecks. It works with all EqualLogic hardware platforms.

All the products and features will be available within a week except for the Hyper-V support, which is in beta testing now and should be available in about a month, Dell said.

The most remarkable thing Dell has done is to deliver far more in every area without raising prices, said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Steve Duplessie.

"Dell has built a fairly substantial company based on driving outrageous efficiencies and almost daily riding down the economic commodity cost curves," Duplessie said. That's good for storage customers even if they don't buy Dell gear, he added. "Any volume producer ... forces the economics to work for everybody."

One area where the company will make an impact is in SSDs, which Dell is rolling out ahead of the pack, Duplessie said. As the price difference shrinks between SSDs and spinning drives, IT departments will start to put all the data they regularly use on the new media and remove the delays caused by hard drives starting up and spinning, he said.

"SSDs in storage, a year from now, are going to change the fundamental economic and performance paradigm of storage in general," Duplessie said.

Meanwhile, Dell is not as exposed as HP and IBM to competition from Cisco, because it doesn't yet play in the core of many big datacenters, he said. "The Fortune 500 is going to look very closely at Cisco, but that's not really where Dell's bread and butter is," Duplessie said.

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