Dell targets data centers with new Juniper gear, EqualLogic updates

Broad rollout, including better storage integration with VMware and SSD load-balancing, is aimed at positioning Dell alongside data center giants HP and Cisco

Dell is set to roll out significant enhancements to its EqualLogic storage line on Wednesday, along with its first rebadged Juniper Networks products and other updates to its storage and networking lines, all part of a mission to carve out a place in the rapidly evolving world of enterprise data centers.

The company will introduce core switching, aggregation switching, and security products from Juniper to give customers more choices, said Matt Baker, an enterprise strategist in Dell's Enterprise Technology Group. Dell already rebrands networking equipment from Brocade, a set of products it is also expanding on Wednesday. At the same time, Dell is set to introduce hybrid storage arrays and new firmware for its EqualLogic line.

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As enterprises try to virtualize and consolidate their data center resources, the biggest IT vendors are forming partnerships and expanding their own product lines to build cohesive systems combining computing, storage and networking. Dell, traditionally known less for innovation than for low prices, wants to position itself alongside data center giants such as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco as this new environment takes shape.

What distinguishes Dell from its major rivals is the ability to create an integrated set of data center products without locking customers into its own brand of gear, Baker said. Virtualized data centers built around Dell gear will be able to incorporate products from many vendors with easy interoperability, he said. Being able to mix those products will let users take advantage of rapid innovation across the industry, he said.

Dell is introducing new firmware for its EqualLogic line of iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) products, in a release that adds significant new features.

One capability coming in the new release, Version 5, is automatic load-balancing between SSDs (solid-state disks) and spinning hard disk drives. A new series of hardware products, the PS6000XVS series of SANs (storage area networks), takes advantage of that feature. The new SANs will allow enterprises to combine SSDs and HDDs and move data between the two types of media based on how often it is accessed. Data that is being accessed more often will move to SSDs, which are designed for faster access.

Using an algorithm, the firmware can shift the data more frequently than most other systems for managing tiers of storage, Baker said.

"Based on what it sees happening, it ... changes the placement of those pages to better optimize the performance of that data on the array," he said.

Dell already offers arrays devoted solely to SSDs, but the PS6000XVS series lets them combine the two and introduce SSDs at a gradual pace. The arrays come in two models: The PS6000XVS is equipped with 1G bps (bit-per-second) iSCSI interfaces and the PS6010XVS with 10G bps iSCSI. They will ship in early August, priced starting at $50,000.

The new EqualLogic firmware also allows tighter integration with VMware virtualization platforms, Dell said. One EqualLogic customer that has been testing the new firmware has found it dramatically boosts efficiency.

EqualLogic Firmware Version 5 allows Bomgar, a maker of appliances for remote control of IT systems, to offload key functions from VMware, according to Joshua Wright, Bomgar's director of IT. Most importantly, it allows the creation and cloning of virtual machines to take place within the storage array where they will reside.

Though these virtual machines typically contain just the operating system, the Windows 2008 OS they use takes up a great deal of space -- as much as 15GB, Wright said. When VMware's ESX hypervisor needs to carry that out, it takes up server cycles as well as network capacity. The operations take place much faster and the hypervisor and network can be used for other things.

"Which system is better optimized for performing a particular task? Obviously, a storage array is going to be the best system to do storage operations," Wright said. Bomgar, a 145-employee company based in Ridgeland, Mississippi, plans to deploy the new firmware as soon as it is commercially available. Dell said it will be available starting Wednesday, free to EqualLogic customers.

Dell is also updating its MD series of entry-level storage devices with higher I/O performance and new capabilities, Baker said. The MD3200 SAS (Serial-Attached SCSI) and MD3200i (iSCSI) replace the MD3000 and MD3000i. They ship next week, starting around $11,000.

Also on Wednesday, Dell is unveiling the first products it will rebadge from Juniper Networks under a partnership announced in October 2009. That partnership was aimed at letting Dell users apply a common network operating system, JunOS, across an entire data center. The products will include the PowerConnect J-EX8208 and J-EX8216 core switches, the PowerConnect J-EX4200 stackable switch and the PowerConnect J-SRX100 line of branch-office Unified Threat Management appliances. These products are due in early July and pricing was not disclosed.

Dell is also adding to the lineup of products coming from its existing deal with Brocade. The B-RX16 is its first core switch from Brocade, coming in early August for $38,500. The Brocade 815 and 825 Fibre Channel host bus adapters are Dell's first with 8-Gigabit Fibre Channel. The PowerConnect 8024 switch is the company's first with copper-based 10-Gigabit Ethernet, coming next week and starting at $15,000.

Dell's storage business is growing up, and the latest products are more evidence of that, said IDC analyst Liz Conner. The load-balancing capability advertised in the new firmware is especially impressive, because it would allow enterprises that invest in relatively expensive SSDs to make the best use of them, she said. Other vendors have talked about doing the same thing, but it's not clear yet how well these tools work, she said.

"If they can actually do it, that would be ideal," Conner said.

With partnerships like those with Juniper and Brocade, Dell may even be able to take on very large data center vendors such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, Conner said.

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