A few weeks ago a DCIG blog entry appeared that described the four emerging datacenter megatrends of the decade of the teens and how any new storage offering that expects to achieve “mega” success must satisfy those criteria. So it was in that context that I was evaluating the new Dell FS7500 at the Dell Storage Forum in Orlando, FL, in my conversations with Dell, other analysts and end users as well as in the demo that Dell provided me. Based on what I saw and heard, the FS7500 delivers the exact set of features and functions that make it almost certain to be a “mega” success for Dell in the decade of the teens.
To recap, the four emerging datacenter megatrends of the teens that I listed in my blog entry a few weeks ago are:
- Centralized infrastructure administration
- Datacenter automation
- Instant gratification
- A cloudy future
So in evaluating what the new Dell FS7500 had to offer, it is important to look beyond its core set of technical features and functions. Arguably more important in this decade of the teens is how well the FS7500 is going to be able to deliver on these four megatrends so that organizations can take advantage of its capabilities without adding more people or increasing their budget to implement and manage it.
Not that one should discount the technical features that the FS7500 has to offer. These are its core and, in this respect, Dell did an excellent job of preserving the best of the Exanet technology that it purchased a couple of years ago and which Dell has since been grooming to become the new FS7500.
- Scales from 300 GB to 500 TB volumes. Dell foresees three likely use cases for the FS7500: (1) User home directories; (2) Storage repository for applications that generate large amounts of data; and (3) Storage repository for virtualized desktops and/or servers.
By enabling administrators to create volumes that match these different requirements, they can allocate as little storage as they want (though who ever thought a 300 GB volume would be considered small?) to provisioning hundreds of TBs to a single volume.
However even the .5 PB volume is one that Dell admits is not a hard limitation. Rather it is a volume size that is currently limited by Dell’s ability to test. Volume sizes can be conceivably much larger if organizations have such a need.
- Multiple security options. As Dell anticipates the FS7500 being used in many of its customer accounts as a home directory for user data, integration and support with Active Directory (AD) and LDAP had to be and are native with the first release.
Complementary to that, if user logins are different in AD and LDAP environments, administrators can from within the FS7500 map these different user login accounts to one another so that no matter which login is used, they can access their files on the FS7500.
However, they may also be those shops that anticipate using the FS7500 for specific “Big Data” applications and do not need AD and/or LDAP integration. In these circumstances, the FS7500 permits organizations to create FS7500-specific admin and/or user logins so they can deploy the FS7500 independently of AD and/or LDAP and just use it to host the data for those applications.
- Robust snapshot feature. One of the features that Dell originally really liked about Exanet and that it felt distinguished Exanet from its competitors was Exanet’s ability to synchronize volume snapshots across multiple backend storage nodes. This feature is still present in the FS7500 and is particularly important in Dell’s environment as the FS7500 will be initially using the Dell EqualLogic storage nodes (which can scale up to 16 nodes) on the backend to store file data.
- Ability to independently scale NAS or SAN controller heads in a unified storage configuration. Dell presented to me possibly one of the best arguments that I have heard so far for not putting block and file services on the same controller. Feedback from its beta customers indicated that they liked the flexibility to scale nodes for their block storage (EqualLogic) or file storage (FS7500) independently. In this way they do not have to worry about how adding more servers to the FS7500 might negatively impact the EqualLogic block storage or vice versa.
All of these technical features certainly caught my attention. But what was noteworthy about the FS7500 and Dell’s implementation of it was Dell’s objective to make the FS7500 as simple to deploy and manage as its EqualLogic and Compellent counterparts have historically been known to deliver.
I was admittedly wondering what Dell was thinking nearly two years ago when it bought Exanet and then seemingly did nothing with it. But it is now evident by the first release of the FS7500 that Dell was feverishly working in the background to preserve the best of what Exanet had to offer while endeavoring to deliver it in the same manner in which its EqualLogic and Compellent lines are known: by making its technology simple to deploy and manage.
My initial impressions are that Dell has succeeded in accomplishing that objective. By enabling the Dell EqualLogic management console to auto-magically (I was at Dell’s Storage Forum in Orlando when Dell demonstrated this for me so forgive the ‘magical’ Disney reference) discover the new Dell FS7500 as soon as it is deployed, the FS7500 affords the same user friendly look and feel that Dell EqualLogic storage has always offered. In so doing, it seamlessly brings NAS and SAN management together under the existing Dell EqualLogic management GUI.
To say that the FS7500 has everything that every shop is looking for out of the gate is still not quite the case as features like deduplication, thin provisioning and support for Compellent storage are still on its roadmap. But in terms of delivering the set of features that matter the most to users right now – centralized management, datacenter automation, instant gratification and building storage clouds – the FS7500 certainly provides those Day 1.
It is this feature set coupled with its simplicity of deployment and management that in large part explains why the Dell FS7500 product manager was almost sprinting from meeting to meeting at the Dell Storage Forum to answer all of the questions that analysts, customers and journalists had about the FS7500’s product launch. It also strongly suggests why the FS7500 is poised to become a mega success for Dell in the decade of the teens.