Dell: The Days Of Feature-Rich Storage Are Numbered

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Robin Kuepers from Dell says growing storage capacity on a very tight budget is one of the main challenges facing IT departments in 2014

The days of one-size-fits-all storage are coming to an end, Robin Kuepers, EMEA Storage marketing director at Dell, told TechWeekEurope.

He warned that this year, IT budgets are set to grow around three to five percent, while the amount of business data that needs to be stored is expected to increase by around 50 percent. In this climate, businesses will need to find alternative storage strategies.

One of the possible solutions is software-defined storage – an area in which Dell has been making progress in partnership with open source start-up Nexenta. At the same time, more resource-intensive applications could benefit from a switch to Flash, using appliances like the recently updated Dell Compellent range.

The matter of cost

“The biggest challenge for many customers that I’m talking to is they are looking at the analyst data, and they keep predicting data growth,” told us Kuepers.

Dell CompellentHe said new rules and regulations often ask businesses to store data for ten to fifteen years, and sometimes even indefinitely. The constant demand for storage capacity is proving hard to manage, considering the minimal increase in IT budgets.

“There’s a realisation that people need to start thinking differently when it comes to storage. If they keep buying the traditional architectures, for example SAN arrays or NAS solutions, they might run out of money very quickly.

“So we see customers spending their budgets in different ways than they have done before. One area where we see a clear interest is what we call cost-optimised space. It’s about finding new technologies, looking at different vendors, looking at different architectures out there, to see if they solve that [capacity] problem.”

An example of cost-optimised technology is software-defined storage: a type of pooled infrastructure that is managed and automated by intelligent software as opposed to the storage hardware itself.

“We suddenly see people looking at servers as a platform to do storage,” said Kuepers. “They are looking at open source vendors like Nexenta, or other companies that allow scaling servers in the right way to have more storage at a better price.”

The power of Flash

Another area where businesses are set to spend money this year is performance-optimised storage – in other words, Flash memory. Flash can deliver consistent performance, high IOPS and SSDs are rapidly increasing in capacity, thanks not only to the advances in NAND memory, but also modern deduplication and compression techniques. Due to these factors, the cost per GB of Flash is quickly approaching the levels of spinning disk.

Dell EqualLogicKuepers says that where intense workloads are concerned, solid state drives are already more cost-effective than traditional hard drives.

“We have customers asking to be educated on Flash, what kind of technology is out there, what kind of solutions we offer, how do they integrate, what are the trade-offs. From a macro view, this means that over the next few years, IT budgets will be spent on either performance-optimised or cost-optimised storage, and it’s the middle bit that is going to get squeezed – the feature-rich systems.”

According to Kuepers, many customers are starting to realise that they are paying a premium for features they simply don’t use. As a consequence, they are more interested in specialised storage, instead of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ solutions that look good on paper, but become under-utilised in the data centre.

Over the course of 2014, Dell is going to continue a refresh of its products that began at Dell World in December. The company has already updated the Compellent range which offers automated tiered storage, and pushed out new EqualLogic 7.0 firmware for all-flash and hybrid arrays.

Next on the list, it’s PowerVault – Dell’s budget-friendly family of storage appliances, which firmly fits in the ‘cost-optimised’ category. Kuepers wouldn’t tell us when to expect an upgrade, but said a relevant announcement would be made “in the coming months”.

“In all honesty, after looking at our current IP and portfolio, I don’t see any gaps where I could say ‘this is going to be a big challenge for Dell.’ We have all the technology we need,” concluded the marketing director.

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