Dell buying Compellent – Virtualising Storage

Over the past couple of weeks I have been doing various seminars and meetings with storage vendors, more specifically, the storage vendors I regard as offering modern thinking, and up to date technology.
I’ve made no bones about my liking for Compellent, I really think they are forward thinking and innovative, whereas the traditional storage vendors are clinging on to repeat business and people doing whatever they have done before.
I went to Dell’s Accelerate the Virtual Era 2011 era session last week at the Mandeville hotel in central London. I wanted to get more confidence in where they are heading with storage. I left feeling that not even Dell know for sure, well, nothing they’re able to give away to the guys on the ground at any rate.

Then i gave it serious thought, they want to stand alone with their storage offering, they’ve more or less said as much. It’s been made pretty clear Dell want to stand alone as a storage partner, and that be based on the emerging FCoE technologies, data management– NEW technology.
Now, whilst I like the Equallogic product it’s what I would consider an entry to mid level product. It has a vast hole in it’s disk by not offering fibre channel support, (no, i dont mean FC connectivity to the array per say, but reliable fast data delivery). They jump from SAS to SSD, which is just…daft. They cover that up with all sorts of flannel saying the box will sort it all out with blocks moving about… Yes, ok, but we live in the real world. That said, I accept that 6Gbps SAS is on the Market, but it is still serial architecture, it’s the latency that worries me. It has MASSIVE potential however, four X 4Gbps pipes with a 6Gbps SAS drive represents a sizeable 24Gbps throughput.
Their recent acquisition of Compellent adds the fibre piece and introduces a mid to enterprise level array, after all Compellent go toe to toe with the likes of EMC in the market right now.

However…. Dell don’t only sell Equallogic and Compellent right now (there’s already a reseller deal in place even though the buyout will only complete end of Feb), there is the Celerra(VNX) and Clarion arrays, BUT these are both rebadged EMC products. This is a reseller arrangment in essence, yes they sell it as Dell badged, but we all know it’s EMC when purple badges and Dell-EMC when black badged. Neither of these arrays are ‘modern’ thinking, good as they are, they’re older frame based technology which is being dragged into the FCoE era, with ‘bolt on’ data management solutions.

Now if you remember the 3Par bun fight Dell had with HP, even though HP won the bid, Dell somewhat soured their relationship with EMC in the process. EMC weren’t happy that Dell were effectively undermining them. It was all ‘smoothed’ over in one way or another with both sides making noise about exploring new avenues of collaborating etc, but now they’ve shown their cards with the Compellent deal. I seriously think the EMC deal won’t be renewed, apparently that has about 18 months to run before renewal. Whether Dell walk away from that or EMC give them the shove I don’t know, but my guess is it will die a death. What they MIGHT keep is the EMC software (Data Domain is an EMC product) for the dedupe, but again, anyones guess. Software reseller?

So….my opinion, given 12 – 18 months we will see Dell finally sort their storage offerings with Equallogic occupying the entry to mid range Market and Compellent pushing on with their mid to Enterprise Market. It kind of makes sense to me now.

With Compellent going, they are pretty much the last big independent vendor, it’s all come back to the big boys, again. In this economic climate nobody is in a position to pour big money into R&D, so this technology is here to stay for a while.

What benefits does the deal bring for Compellent as such? Well a nice simple one is buying power, Compellent buy in relatively small numbers compared to the Dell buying more power, it’s a simple economic and should see the disk price come down for Compellent. Also, currently Compellent use the Supermicro base servers to run as their controllers, Dell servers would instantly replace these. There is huge scope for bringing the big boy Dell into the Compellent business, support/partners/oem etc.
Negatives? You might argue that the clearly excellent support structure that Compellent have built a lot of business on, could be ‘diluted’ by Dell, but 1. they will tread careful, and 2. I’ve actually had good service through Dell support.

The only solid conclusion I came to was this is the worst possible time to be buying new storage, and the best decision is to sit and watch and wait for it to all play out.

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