Michael Dell talks up EqualLogic and the new PS5000 array

The PS5000 series SAN offers provisioning on the fly through virtualization and thin provisioning

Days after closing its acquisition of iSCSI storage vendor EqualLogic Inc., Dell Inc. today announced a new series of iSCSI-based storage-area network (SAN) arrays. The Dell EqualLogic PS5000 Series offers both virtualization and thin-provisioning capabilities, allowing storage administrators to grow capacity on the fly.

In an interview, CEO Michael Dell spoke with Computerworld about the EqualLogic acquisition, his company's push upstream into the storage SMB and enterprise market, and how that push would affect Dell's partnership with EMC Corp.

Dell said his company's $1.4 billion acquisition of EqualLogic, which had about $68.1 million in sales in 2006, was not based on the storage vendor's current value but on its potential to bring in revenue, given the fast-growing adoption of iSCSI technology.

"IDC has projected that iSCSI will be about 25% of the storage market opportunity in 2011, and that's about $6 billion in revenues from iSCSI," Dell said. "When we look at EqualLogic's technology, we think it's the best in the industry for everything from high-end, mission-critical iSCSI [needs] to entry-level iSCSI to clustered file systems for large Internet providers."

According to Dell, the coming adoption of 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet will help create a compelling selling point for iSCSI storage and the PS5000 series, which uses the iSCSI protocol to connect servers to back-end SANs and is aimed at simplifying storage installation.


The new Dell EqualLogic PS5000 series array

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The PS5000 allows companies with little or no Fibre Channel networking expertise a more easily deployable storage architecture by offering arrays that use existing Ethernet LANs and by offering storage that in many ways self-manages, has on-demand capacity provisioning and is precertified with Dell servers, the company stated in a press release.

The iSCSI protocol is an IP-based specification that allows SCSI commands and data to be carried over Ethernet networks. By using iSCSI instead of Fibre Channel for a server-storage interconnect, companies can avoid installing expensive host bus adapters on servers and Fibre Channel switches to create a storage subnetwork, as well as the need to hire Fibre Channel-qualified network technicians.

But Dell said that his company will continue to offer a full line of both iSCSI and Fibre Channel-based storage products, both its own and those it sells through its long-standing partnership with EMC.

Asked if his company's expansion into the midrange and enterprise storage market would have any affect on its partnership with EMC -- through which it manufactures and resells entry-level AX series and midrange CX series storage arrays -- Dell's chairman said only that "it has been a great partnership for both companies" and that "the partnership continues at least through 2011."

Dell said his company's strategy to include iSCSI in its product dovetails neatly with its virtualization capabilities through VMware. Theoretically, both virtualized servers and storage can be managed via a single interface using iSCSI, because it's based on IP and Ethernet.

Andrew Reichman, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said his firm's user customers have expressed a tremendous need for more efficient use of storage capacity and a simplification of storage infrastructure management.

IT and storage budgets, Reichman said, are "either shrinking to staying flat. A lot of companies are looking at new ways of networking applications servers to storage, and one way is iSCSI."

Reichman said Dell's strategy also plays to users that want to deal with fewer partner vendors, but ones that can offer a greater breadth of products and services across the data center.

Dell said the PS5000 Series SAN offers both serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disk drives for applications requiring high storage performance, and Serial ATA disk drives for applications requiring high capacity but lower performance. The arrays can come configured with 10,000 rpm or 15,000 rpm SAS drives, and scale from 4.8TB capacity in the PS5000XV array and 6.4TB in the PS5000X array to 16TB in the PS5000E. The individual arrays can be clustered to form even larger SANs.

The PS5000 includes a number of fault-tolerance capabilities such as snapshots, replication and thin provisioning, which allows administrators to expand storage capacity to an application as needed without overallocating it.

The new arrays have self-monitoring capabilities that can automatically load-balance data across controllers, network connections and disk drives so as to not overload any one node. The PS5000 arrays are available through Dell's channel partners and direct sales. System pricing begins at $19,000; for that, you receive a single controller, SATA drives and 2TB capacity.

The PS5000 can scale in a modular fashion, allowing administrators to add arrays as building blocks. As arrays are added to a group, storage performance grows linearly, according to Dell. Network bandwidth expands while the group of arrays continues to behave as one virtual SAN.

Dell said his company's takeover of EqualLogic, which garnered most of its sales through channel partnerships, won't affect existing customers.

"I think we've seen quite positive response from the EqualLogic channel partners. Not only do they get the same great margins and support with EqualLogic, but they also get to sell the industry's best blade server offering with fastest backplane," he said, referring to the addition of Dell server products.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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