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11/15/2012
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Dell Boosts Storage Portfolio With New Hardware, Software

Dell hopes to fortify its enviable storage market position with major Compellent and PowerVault storage software upgrades and new backup appliances.

On Thursday, Dell announced software enhancements for its Compellent and PowerVault storage portfolios as well as new backup appliances at the Dell Storage Forum in Paris.

Storage has become an important cornerstone of the company's effort to transition from a PC maker associated with yesteryear's "Dude, you're getting a Dell" commercials to a diversified service provider that can compete with the likes of Cisco, HP and IBM. This focus has contributed to Dell's status as one of the few bright spots in the depressed server field, as well as to its market-leading position in the iSCSI SAN market.

Even so, the company continues to face stiff competition, not only from EMC, which dominates the storage market overall and is Dell's nearest competitor within iSCSI, but also from competitors such as NetApp, which has not only partnered with Cisco to improve its data center positioning, but also introduced mid-tier server arrays that compete directly with the products Dell announced Thursday.

Version 6.3 of Dell's Compellent Storage Center array software was the headline announcement in Paris. The company claims the new software can double the performance of its SC8000 controller, which targets midsize to large enterprises and cloud computing. The boost includes support for 16-GB Fibre Channel connectivity from server to switch to storage, which doubles the bandwidth previously available and should accelerate access to business apps and data. Network fabric player Brocade announced Thursday that is has worked with Dell to facilitate the increased throughput, and it will offer I/O modules that take advantage of the new capabilities.

Storage Center 6.3 also adds support for Windows Server 2012 while bolstering data recovery with improved synchronous replication capabilities. On the security front, the new offering integrates not only Microsoft Active Directory but also the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), additions that should reduce IT admin work by simplifying authentication and authorization processes. Federal government security is also addressed with support for USGv6/IPv6 requirements.

[ U.S. national labs operate five of the world's top 20 supercomputers. See Fastest Supercomputer List Topped By Titan. ]

In an interview, Bob Fine, product director for Compellent, said that the software advances Dell's Fluid Data architecture, which is advertised as a way to keep data optimization up to evolving standards without purchasing an entirely new storage system.

"In the Compellent world, we refer to software as perpetual," he said. He elaborated that because Compellent employs a modular upgrade path, businesses can keep pace through software enhancements and relatively inexpensive new components. This approach contrasts sharply with those of many competitors, he said, because it doesn't involve expensive hardware investments. "It's not a matter of offering something," he remarked, "but of how."

Dell maintains this strategy enables businesses to decrease total cost of ownership even while they proactively scale up their resources. As evidence, the company points to an IDC report, published in October and commissioned by Dell, that found organizations maintain Compellent installations for an average of 6.9 years before replacing them. This lifespan is roughly double the overall average for this class of storage products.

Storage Center 6.3 will be available in the second quarter of 2013. Fine said the new version will be free for existing Compellent customers.

Turning to the other announcements, Dell also upgraded software for its PowerVault MD3 arrays. The enhancements include dynamic disk pools that share data across drives to not only mitigate the effects of drive failure but also accelerate recovery times. Remote replication capabilities were also added, as was integration support for VMware vStorage APIs, which allow storage tasks to be offloaded from the server to PowerVault arrays for better CPU, memory and bandwidth management. The software update is rounded out by new thin-provisioning capabilities intended to improve capacity utilization.

In an interview, Peter Waugh, product director for Dell Data Management Solutions, said some of the PowerVault upgrades will entail additional costs. He countered, however, that businesses will be offered a 90-day "try and buy" trial period. This option, he said, ensures that the product line will be friendly to small and midsize businesses (SMBs), as they'll be able to assess pros and cons before committing to a new investment.

On the backup appliance front, Dell announced the PowerVault DL4000. The first product to include AppAssure software since Dell bought the company in February, the turnkey appliance, which is targeted primarily at SMBs, offers snapshot, replication, de-duplication and compression features, and 5.5 TB of internal capacity. Waugh remarked that a new DL4000 can be up and running in less than 30 minutes.

Targeting large enterprises, Dell also debuted the PowerVault DL2300, which bundles CommVault Simpana backup and recovery software. It also unveiled new Quest NetVault Backup software that includes the ability to recover files from virtual machine image backups and enhanced support for Windows 2012, Novell OES 11 and Microsoft SQL Server 2012.

The PowerVault MD3 software enhancements and PowerVault DL3200 are available now. The Dell Quest NetVault Backup update is slated for December, and the DL4000 will be available in the first quarter of 2013.

Waugh said the new offerings attest to the careful acquisition strategy Dell has charted to expand its offerings. Dell Enterprise Solutions president Marius Haas remarked in October that this strategy explains how his company can compete with other top players without matching their massive R&D expenditures.

Dell recently announced the 100,000th EqualLogic array had been installed. It's now up to the new announcements -- to say nothing of any surprises during December's Dell World conference in Austin, Texas -- to maintain that momentum.

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