Darren Thomas, Vice President/General Manager of Dell Enterprise Storage, took time out from the Dell Storage Forum 2012 in Boston this week to talk to Dave Vellante and Stu Miniman of Wikibon.org as part of theCube’s conference coverage (full video below). Here’s a rundown of some of the major messages Thomas conveyed regarding Dell’s role in the storage industry.
Dell started to become a major player in the storage business in 2004 after previously being fully committed as an EMC reseller. “With a leader like Michael Dell, we wanted to start a storage revolution and become a leading innovator,” Thomas revealed. “We are now in our third year of integrating our storage solutions with our server, networking and management solutions.”
When designing its converged solution consisting of servers, storage, networking and management, Dell purposefully began with a blank slate, which allowed the company to select acquisition targets offering best-in-class solutions. This required a standstill start, but at the same time the approach did not tie Dell to any legacy technologies.
“Many customers are transitioning to our fluid data architecture as they launch new projects,” Thomas said. “They see the difference between legacy systems bound by the sheet metal they sit in vs. our system that can be virtually extended beyond its physical limits. The demos we perform with the technologies we acquired from EqualLogic, Compellant, and Aperture win customers over 99% of the time.”
System Management Challenges
Thomas referred to system management as the “holy grail” of the IT industry. “The management innovation rate occurs very fast, and a single solution that spans servers, storage and networking still does not exist,” said Thomas. “Each component requires its own tool set.”
Dell has addressed the management challenge by giving every device an API and by creating a policy-driven machine that provisions machines. Customers can set systems up with individual element managers but manage at the provisioning level. Where possible, Dell uses a Compellant management interface for the file system, but for management across all systems, Dell uses a provision-level manager, which Thomas said is the converged tool of the future.
Thomas also explained how the Dell server, storage and networking divisions all work closely together to make sure each system component works well with all other components. Senior system engineers from each division participate in architectural meetings every month to discuss how to integrate each component. The system architects then return to their individual teams to design what is necessary into each component.
“Each division reports to the same person, and we all act together to consider the impact of what we do on the other components of our solutions,” Thomas said. “Communication takes place easily, and as a result, system convergence at Dell is occurs easily.”
Profits from Higher Storage Margins Re-Invested to Deliver More Customer Value
As an example, Dell integrated Aperture in-line block and dedupe functions and will integrate Ocarina technology soon so customers will have only one data compression algorithm so they won’t have to remember how to rehydrate data. “When we buy a company, we are open with them on how we will make changes to their technology based on our fluid data architecture,” Thomas said. “If there’s a problem, the deal won’t happen.”
Dell has enjoyed higher margins with its storage solutions, and, the extra profits are being invested in to EqualLogic, Compellant and other components to create more features that give customers more value. Thomas said that Dell been a leader in server sales for a long time but is finding that businesses have a different buyer when it comes to storage and networking.
“For the opportunities we close through our storage division, many customers are new to our server business,” Thomas said. “Because of this situation, we are penetrating new as well as existing markets. When we present solutions, we focus on our entire portfolio of components and sell the value of integrated components.”
Horizontal Tiering, Flash and Big Data
Thomas wrapped up his interview commenting on a range of topics including Horizontal Tiering. “Creating fluid data solutions that tier across boxes is next on our horizon. Within two-three-3 years, we will be able to move data from any device we own to any other device we own.”
Dell also plans to add Flash to its servers, directly on the PCI Bus. “Flash will operate at half a million I/O per second, and we can protect the content by replicating to another site,” Thomas said. “This will create software coherency across multiple sites. Flash will enable customers to function at breakneck speeds, but the key is the software, such as our Hermes solution, which provides reliability to supplement the speed.”
Dell are conducting demos of Hermes at the Dell Storage Forum 2012 conference, and Thomas projects it will available before this time next year.
When it comes to Big Data, like other senior executives at Dell Thomas said the term is a misnomer. “It’s really more about Big Analytics. You need to have knowledge, not just lots of data. To meet this need, we currently partner with companies like Hadoop to provide analytics. Our customers realize it’s not just about having big databases, it’s about having the analytics to utilize the data in meaningful way.”