Most large IT vendor conferences — especially those held in Las Vegas — tend to resemble a three-ring information overload circus. Attendees can easily be overwhelmed with the breadth and depth of what is being presented. At times, focusing on the tried and true basics helps to refresh and clear one’s mind. As an example, let’s turn to the storage solutions that were highlighted this week at Dell EMC World.

Naturally, Dell EMC continues to evolve its storage portfolio, but it is not doing so by abandoning the core storage products and principles that have been fundamental to its success for more than two decades.

Now, Dell Technologies is the rubric under which all the businesses of the company fall. Dell EMC is the data center infrastructure business and incorporates Dell’s business servers and a midrange storage product line as well as EMC’s traditional high end, midrange, and scale-out (unstructured data) storage systems. In addition, converged infrastructure solutions, including hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) offerings falls with the purview of Dell EMC.

High End Storage

  • VMAX 950F — VMAX has long been the flagship storage system for enterprise-class servers, including mainframes, open systems from all system vendors, and IBM I (although I keep thinking of it as AS/400) markets. With VMAX, EMC was a pioneer in moving to all flash models (although it offers hybrid arrays, as well) and Dell EMC states that 80% of sales are for all flash VMAX systems. The company has announced the addition of a new high end product — the VMAX 950F. Compared to the previous high end product — the VMAX 850F, the VMAX 950F is 68% faster with 30% better response time while still offering up to 4PB of capacity. In addition, Dell EMC claims that its newest product is up to 4 times faster than its nearest competitor.
  • HYPERMAX Upgrades — software-defined storage is definitely in vogue, and for good reasons, but that doesn’t mean that traditional storage controller operating systems (OS) don’t have their place. HYPERMAX is the current name for the VMAX storage OS and it builds upon its rich, robust foundation that runs many of the world’s most mission-critical systems. One new feature is the D@RE External Key Manager that provides additional security for snapshots, such as making sure that they cannot be deleted accidentally. Another addition is non-disruptive migration (NDM) for synchronous migration to a VMAX array without the need for a host system reboot (which would be a no-no in a high availability situation).
  • XtremIO X2 — XtremIO was one of the pioneers in all-flash (also known as solid state) arrays, and Dell EMC claims that XtremIO is the global sales leader among all-flash solutions. XtremIO targets the highest of performance applications, and the new, next generation X2 builds upon that strong base. Dell EMC states that the data reduction ratio is now 5:1 (which means that 20TB of raw physical storage can accommodate 100TB of actual data — depending upon the application, of course). This is a 25% improvement over the previous version. X2 also offers multi-dimensional scaling, which means that it can both scale-out as well as scale-up. X2 supports a grand total of 5.5PB maximum effective capacity. In addition, the response time is projected at 80% improvement and the cost is 1/3 that of the previous version. What’s not to love?

Midrange Storage

  • Unity — Unity is the name for the midrange offering that was formerly known as EMC’s VNX3, and Unity is appropriate because it supports both block and file in the same system. Unity is available in hybrid and all-flash configurations but at Dell EMC World the focus is on all-flash solutions with four new models introduced. Overall, new Unity systems are 8X denser with 4X the file capacity of the previous generation. The system is also easier to install — requiring just 10 minutes instead of half an hour. These are positive but incremental steps. The most glamorous item is CloudIQ, new cloud-based analytics software that supports health checks and to set custom alerts. Still the changes to Unity need only be evolutionary as evidenced with robust 89% quarter over quarter revenue growth.
  • SC Series — the SC series reflects the ongoing success of Dell EMC’s Compellant midrange products. Keeping a second midrange line reflects company’s ongoing pragmatism of continuing to sell what is already working. If low cost hybrid arrays continue to sell, so be it. The big enhancement is the introduction of the new SC5020 hybrid system, an upgrade to the existing SC4020. The SC5020 delivers a 45% increase in IOPS with a 2X gain in capacity. Dell EMC claims that the new product has the lowest $/GB cost of any hybrid array in the market. A low price for a quality product always meets with customer approval.


EMC acquired Isilon in late 2010 as its scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) platform and Dell EMC claims that Isilon is #1 platform in the space where the exponential rise in unstructured file data dominates. Yet Dell EMC is not resting upon its laurels (and they never do!). The new generation Isilon family, which the company views as a major launch covers 3 basic scenarios with scale-out storage nodes appropriately designed for each use case. All-flash nodes are appropriate for high performance computing (HPC) and analytics workloads where both extreme performance and scalability are essential. The more traditional hybrid nodes are aimed at enterprise workloads where the need for performance and capacity have to be balanced with value. Last but not least are HDD-based archive nodes for nearline and deep archiving scenarios, where the ability to handle large capacity with good cost economics dominate the decision/buying process. The new generation Isilon brings other big changes in terms of performance. For example, Dell EMC claims the new systems deliver 9X the file IOPS, 18X the throughput, and 20X the capacity of its closest-all-flash competitor.

Mesabi musings

Dell EMC has long been successful selling enterprise storage, a point that highlights the value of the combined companies. The new and updated systems introduced this week at Dell EMC World suggest that the company intends to continue in the same vein. While many of the announced changes are evolutionary, they still add significant value customers will appreciate.

The high end features a new high-end VMAX model that Dell EMC states is up to 4 times faster than any competitive product. The high end also features a new generation of product for XtremIO with a dramatic reduction in TCO that can be as much as only 1/3 of the previous version. The midrange features new all flash models for the Unity line with greater density and faster installation time, and a new high end product for the SC series that Dell EMC states has the lowest cost per gigabyte of any comparable array. And, for scale-out NAS, Dell EMC views the new Isilon products as a major launch, notably in the area of all-flash where the claim is made that it totally dominates all comparable competitors in terms of IOPS, throughput, and capacity. All in all, storage customers should be pleased with the progress that Dell EMC is making on all fronts.