Dell reveals its storage roadmap, acquisition integration plans

Dell looks to the cloud as a tier of storage

Over the last year, Dell acquired clustered storage vendor Exanet, data compression vendor Ocarina and SAN vendor Compellent. Those latest acquisitions add layers on top of Dell's buyout of midrange storage vendor EqualLogic.

Now Dell's working to pull its acquisitions together under a single management layer, allowing file migration, replication and deduplication between storage platforms.

"What our vision is ... with Exanet and Ocarina is to layer in that technology to serve as the linkage to bring all these other technologies to life," said Travis Vigil, Dell's executive director of product marketing for enterprise storage.

Specifically, Dell hopes to announce by the time of its June user conference in Orlando an integration of Exanet's scalable file system with its homegrown PowerVault entry-level storage systems and Compellent and EquaLogic storage area network (SAN) products. That would allow Dell to use Ocarina's appliances in front of its arrays to perform deduplication/compression on unstructured data such as e-mail. Dell expects to complete that integration in the second half of this year.

"So step one is getting a common file system across the portfolio. Once you get that, you can start to do interesting things in terms of the life-cycle management of data," Vigil said. "You can use that common context to put in an overarching architecture to manage that data from primary storage, to secondary storage to archive, like with our DX [object storage] products."

Dell plans to drive its Compellent SAN technology up the stack to the enterprise market, while EqualLogic will remain focused on the midsize storage market. One feature Dell acquired with Compellent was data tiering, or the ability to move data internal to the array between different classes of disk drives.

Compellent's "Fluid Data" technology is being rolled into what Dell calls its Fluid Data Architecture, which it hopes will allow its customers to move data between platforms and eventually archive data off site via a public cloud, according to Scott Horst, Dell's vice president of corporate marketing. "It would be another tier of storage," he said. "Compellent also gave us chargeback and multitenancy capabilities."

Brian Babindeau, an analyst with research firm Enterprise Strategy Group, said integrating Exanet and Ocarino's technology into its storage products may take longer than Dell plans.

"There's a lot of technology integration work required to add deduplication and an expanded file system across both Compellent and EqualLogic. It is doable," he said. "I think the one question mark ... is getting Exanet to work across those platforms so that they actually have a file storage offering."

Dell is looking to compete against top file storage vendors such as EMC, which recently purchased Isilon and its clustered NAS, NetApp with its Data ONTAP GX operating system, and Hewlett-Packard, which is working on integrating its 2009 acquisition of clustered file vendor Ibrix with its the StorageWorks division.

Dell has done a good job in filling out its portfolio of storage products with its acquisitions over the past four years, Babineau said.

"The really glaring hole from a storage system perspective is a purpose-built solution for data protection," Babineau said. "Something like a Data Domain system. Will they be able to make Ocarina, Compellent and EqualLogic optimized for backup workloads?" Dell made

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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