This is the seventh of eight in a series titled 8 Must Haves for the IT Director

Number 7 – Intuitive, Unified User Interface

Managing conventional storage systems is complex and time-consuming. In fact, IT staff expenditures
often exceed the cost of the storage platform itself. Administrators need to monitor always-changing
capacity requirements, manually migrate data from tier to tier, configure backup sequences and more.
And in most cases, all these tasks must be performed using multiple, standalone user interfaces.

Dell Compellent storage is designed to help administrators manage more data in less time. This is
largely because of the built-in efficiency and intelligent automation of Dell Compellent storage. It is
also because Dell Compellent storage features an intuitive, point-and-click interface that provides a
complete view of the entire storage environment through a single pane of glass.

With Dell Compellent, there is no need for specialized skill sets or ongoing systems training. Wizards
guide users through system setup and application configuration, making even advanced operations
simple and straightforward. Since common, repetitive (and often time-consuming) tasks are fully
automated, users can focus on other important projects. Storage consumption and usage trends are
automatically monitored and displayed, eliminating the need for manual capacity planning. And a
unique Phone Home feature provides automated real-time alerts and notifications for remote
diagnostics and monitoring. Dell Compellent storage even generates executive summaries, cost-savings
calculations and utilization chargeback reports with just a few clicks.


Next up in our 8 Must Have series is #8, Scale On Demand, Open Platform.

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This is the fifth of eight in a series titled 8 Must Haves for the IT Director

Number 5 – Space-Efficient Snapshots

The hidden cost of snapshot space hogs

Using snapshots to protect array data is nothing new. What is new is how the aging (or tiered progression) algorithms associated with primary data can also be applied to snapshot data. There are 2 parts to snapshot efficiency; 1) minimizing the amount needed initially and 2) placing the older snapshots on lower tiered groups of disks.

Some storage architectures implement snapshots using large chunks, or pages, of data. These larger block approaches tend to overuse snapshot space by preserving data at a minimum of 15K chunks. Imagine a 15K snapshot for a single byte change. Compellent snapshots can be configured from 512 Byte blocks to 4K, drastically reducing the per change overhead.

Snapshot migration reduces costs

The second snapshot efficiency gained by the Compellent architecture is that, similar to primary data, snapshot data can also be progressively moved to lower speed, lower cost media as it ages. Snapshots for yesterday are generally more likely to be needed than snapshots from a previous month, especially for high-IO applications. Thus, it makes sense that the most recent snapshots are readily available on the fastest tier groups; a process handled automatically by Compellent.

Since Replays are so space efficient, recovery can take as few as 10 seconds and volumes can be
mapped to any server without disruption. To simplify the process, administrators set up Replay
schedules using an intuitive point-and-click interface. Replays can also be used to test new applications
and service packs on actual data without risk, efficiently support boot-from-SAN operations and
virtually eliminate backup windows on production systems.


Next up in our 8 Must Have series is #6, Thin Replication.

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Having dealt with capacity based licensing during most of my career, I was pleasantly surprised that Compellent puts a ceiling on it’s software costs based on the number of drives. Although a Compellent SC040 can scale from 6 to at least 1008 disk drives, the licensing cut off point is 96 drives.

To avoid charging customers for unneeded software, Compellent licenses the following:

1. Data Progression (Block based Automated Tiered Storage) – ILM
2. Data Instant Replay (Snap Shot)
3. Dynamic Capacity (Thin Provisioning) (Prerequisite)
4. Remote Instant Replay (Replication)
5. Replay Manager (Application Aware Snaps)
6. Fast Track (Tiering on the disk for higher performance)
7. Storage Center Core (prerequisite)

You could have all these features or some of them depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

A Base license = 16 active drives.

Expansion licenses are based on 8 drive increments to a maximum of 10 sets or a total of 96 drives including Base license.

So, once you hit the 96 drive number, you don’t buy anymore SW, just hardware and probably just 7K drives. Compellent say 7K drives make up 81% of their disk upgrades.

One caveat is that although you are not “charged” for software beyond 96 drives, there is the age-old complaint by customers that adding drives is not as simple as picking up the commodity devices. Compellent, nor any other large manufacturer, supports the customer going out and buying an off-the-shelf seagate drive to pop in the unit. The variables are many and the risks are too high for data corruption.

However, I do think the vendors should cut down on the exorbitant rates they charge for add-on hardware if they truly want to market “future proof” value.

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This is the third of eight in a series titled 8 Must Haves for the IT Director

Number 3 – Thin Provisioning

Dell Compellent significantly reduces the cost of storage by enabling you to purchase and manage
fewer disk drives now and in the future. With other storage systems, physical disk capacity is
preallocated when the volume is created. Administrators estimate how much capacity may be required
for a given application and allocate “extra” space to accommodate growth. If the volume created is
500 GB, all 500 GB are set aside for that application. No other applications can use any of the preallocated
disk space, and none of it can be reclaimed later if actual utilization doesn’t coincide with
staff estimates. In most cases, only a fraction of the pre-allocated capacity is ever actually used,
resulting in the accumulation of purchased but “stranded” storage.

Such inefficient disk utilization inflates capital expenditures, operating expenditures and, ultimately,
your total cost of ownership (TCO). Administrators are forced to buy more capacity than needed
upfront, when the price per GB is sure to fall. Over time, as capacity is consumed (or stranded), even
more capacity must be purchased, further expanding the data center footprint. And all of this storage
must be provisioned manually, a time-consuming process that often requires downtime. In the end,
regardless of how much data is truly stored, all of these disks require continuous power and cooling.

Dell Compellent Thin Provisioning software, called Dynamic Capacity™, completely separates allocation
from utilization, eliminating preallocated but unused capacity. Administrators can provision any size
virtual volume upfront yet only consume physical capacity when data is actually written to disk. That
means you purchase the data you need to store your data today, then continue saving by expanding the
system on demand, adding the right capacity at the right time as your business needs change. In most
cases, organizations can regain 40 to 60 percent of disk space that would have been lost to preallocation.
You can even reclaim capacity from volumes provisioned with legacy systems using Thin
Import.

Next up in our 8 Must Have series is #4, Automated Tiered Storage.

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This is the second of eight in a series titled 8 Must Haves for the IT Director

Number 2 – Storage Virtualization

The term “virtual storage” has about as many definitions as there are vendors that provide it. In it’s most basic form, Compellent Storage Virtualization means that logical disk volumes are not directly associated with physical disk devices. A single volume, for example, might be spread across many physical drive types and raid levels.

Here’s Compellent’s overview:

Dell Compellent virtualizes enterprise storage at the disk level, creating a dynamic pool of shared storage resources available to all servers. With read/write operations spread across all drives, multiple requests can be processed in parallel, boosting system performance. Dell Compellent Storage Virtualization allows users to create hundreds of volumes in seconds to support any virtual server platform and optimize the placement of virtual applications.

How to Increase Performance with Storage Virtualization

  • Create any size virtual volumes without allocating drives to specific servers or dealing with complicated capacity planning and performance tuning
  • Present network storage to servers simply as disk capacity, regardless of tier, RAID level or server connectivity
  • Automatically restripe data across all drives in the storage pool when adding disk capacity
  • Dynamically scale the storage pool and implement system upgrades without disruption
  • Use virtual ports to increase port capacity, disk bandwidth, I/O connectivity and port failover

While these are certainly all important bullets, I’d like to add my own from a “benefit” perspective. For an IT administrator, Compellent Storage Virtualization:

  • Eliminates “hot spots” because individual drives are not target for specific apps
  • Improves performance by utilizing all spindles available; gets faster as it gets larger.

Next up in our 8 Must Have series is #3, Thin Provisioning.

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This is an excerpt describing Dell Compellent’s move from older PCI-X to PCI-E and its impact on customers. This was a response to a customer’s concern about having to upgrade their Compellent gear. Although Compellent has a good story on minimizing “forklift” upgrades, there comes a point when technology must be refreshed. Does anyone out there still use 5.25″ floppies?

Comment by Bob Fine, Dell Compellent Marketing:

“Full disclosure – I work for Dell Compellent. I manage the Compellent product marketing team. There are two macro level transitions here – the industry wide transition away from PCI-X to PCI-e and the transition from SATA to SAS.

We do offer a variety of ways for our customers to avoid forklift upgrades as much as possible. In the case of SATA technology, the industry has shifted away from SATA to SAS. This isn’t a Compellent decision, but across the entire drive industry. Compellent delayed the end of life long past when drive shipments ended. We still provide Copilot support for SATA, although the drives and enclosures are no longer available for upgrades or new orders.

For many of our customers, they can use a PCI-e SAS card in their existing controller and leverage this new drive technology and avoid a forklift upgrade that some vendors require. Unfortunately our older controllers only have PCI-X interfaces, and PCI-X SAS interface cards are not available from our vendors as part of the industry transition away from PCI-X.

A key Compellent advantage is that by moving to the latest controller will allow use of all your existing Fibre channel enclosures and drives along with SAS, something that most competitors do not support.

I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this further offline from the blog.

- Bob Fine”

Our take: Having been involved with hundreds of enterprise storage projects over 20+ years there is one truism in data storage. Every piece of storage hardware will eventually need to be replaced, so plan on a periodic refresh. I once worked on a Fed Gov project that had a 70-year data retention policy. Although extreme, the requirement forced us to build into our design the ability to migrate forward (i.e. refresh) data from older media to newer. That meant we could not tie our applications to a specific locations and/or mount points. Locations are best kept in a database that can be revised over time.

I appreciate Bob’s response and it is obviously a sincere effort to explain the need for a refresh. The only problem I have is when a marketing team with no real applicable technology experience makes claims it cannot back up.

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