How Dell Is Improving Its Standing in SSD Storage Sector

NEWS ANALYSIS: A new survey indicates that Dell is now the No. 1 vendor of choice among enterprise storage buyers for deploying flash/SSDs.

It was a lucky break that helped bring Compellent to Dell as an acquisition nearly three years ago, a deal that turned out to be one of the best for the parent company in the last 10 years. And Dell has made a lot of acquisitions—25 to be precise—in that decade.

On Sept. 2, 2010, Dell surrendered to Hewlett-Packard after a 10-day bidding war for highly regarded 3PAR, forcing HP to pay $2.3 billion for a company that might have gone for half that, if not for the battle between the two superstar IT companies.

Dell didn't know it at the time, but HP's stubbornness turned out to be the break. Dell shook off the setback and went with Plan B: Compellent, which it bought for a lot less ($960 million). Arguably, it obtained as much, if not more, functionality in the IP that it would have had with 3PAR.

Storage a Strength in Dell's World

It's been well-chronicled that Dell as a company has had its share of difficulties lately, but storage isn't one of them. Since 2011, Dell has taken the Compellent ball and run with it, revamping its entire corporate storage business to install Compellent's Fluid Data as its overall storage strategy.

The strategy is working; Compellent, thanks to its intelligent tiering and versatility in both hard-disk drive and solid-state media, is now the rising star in the midrange storage sector, challenging everybody—NetApp, HP 3PAR, EMC—in the market and coming away with wins.

Evidence of this came out Oct. 8 in a market survey issued by Deni Connor and James Bagley for Storage Strategies NOW, which indicates that Dell is now the No. 1 vendor of choice among enterprise storage buyers for deploying flash/SSDs. In the survey of 550 global companies, the results show that 32 percent of respondents currently use or have definitive plans to deploy flash/SSD technologies, and that Dell is first on their list to check out. This is 6 percentage points or more higher than storage market leaders EMC, NetApp, HP and IBM.

Pricing a Major Factor

This is unusual because in virtually all storage market reports, EMC, IBM or NetApp comes out either No. 1 or No. 2. A large part of the reason for Dell getting a good look is pricing; Dell has made its reputation in the midrange market because it has always been less expensive than all the other brands, and the market is well aware of it.

For example, among the Tier 1 companies' systems examined by SSN, Dell's starter all-SSD array system is priced at $10/GB ($150,000 for a 12TB systems) compared with IBM's $12-$20/GB, or $175,000 to $300,000). NetApp wasn't cited in the all-SSD portion of the survey; newcomers Nimbus, Skyera and Tegile are competitively priced but aren't yet as well-known as Dell and IBM.

"We are the only major storage vendor that offers all-flash arrays at the economics of disk," Dell Storage Vice President and co-General Manager Alan Atkinson told eWEEK awhile back in an interview.

Software Is the Difference

It's all about the software, Dell Storage Marketing Manager Bob Fine told eWEEK.

"Frankly, we use pretty much the same commodity hardware that everybody else does. Our secret sauce is in the software and in the integration for flash, and we do that very well," Fine said. "Our tiering, replication and management to support high-performance data workloads is second to none and also more cost-efficient."

Dell on Oct. 8 started shipping the Dell Compellent SC280 dense enclosure that it announced last June. Fine said the SC280 offers the highest rack unit density of any major storage solution, charting up to 2.8 times more capacity than other 2U 3.5-inch disk drive enclosures.
The SC280 can be used in one package that tiers data from high-performance flash drives down to high-capacity, cost-optimized storage within a single Dell Compellent array, Fine said. Using this, IT managers can now control storage a lot more efficiently, he said.
With its capacity of up to 336TB in hard drives in a 5U enclosure, the SC280 is a capacious all-in-one, fast-write, bulk storage package aimed at co-location environments or file workflows, such as radiology, life sciences and media archival.

Storage Center 6.4 Now Available

Dell also has released new software, Compellent Storage Center 6.4, which is available at no additional cost for customers with active contracts. The Dell Flash-optimized package first writes data to high-performance, high-reliability flash (SLC) drives. As the data ages and is not used as often, it is automatically moved to a second tier of lower-cost, higher-capacity flash (MLC) drives and finally to low-cost, capacity-based hard disks.

"Dell has put together an impressive array of SSD/Flash options covering the end-to-end of its server and storage product lines," SSN's Connor said. "Designation of an SLC Tier and an MLC Tier in the Dell Compellent Storage Center is a unique concept and allows tuning of hardware for a given workload at a new level of granularity.

"The new density enhancements also add immense value for keeping large amounts of data online as data center footprints become more and more expensive."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...