Dell today launched its latest salvo in the iSCSI storage market with the debut of the Dell EqualLogic PS5500E, a SAN array with triple the capacity of prior products and integrated data-protection tools for VMware virtual server environments.

The PS5500E offers 24TB or 48TB of raw capacity in a 4U array, which is more than double the density and triple the capacity of its predecessor model, the PS5000E. But capacity points aside, the real selling point of the PS5500E may be its support for virtual server infrastructures.

Dell introduced a new feature available for the PS5500E — and across all of its EqualLogic SANs — called Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware Edition (ASM/VE). The ASM/VE software integrates EqualLogic snapshots directly with VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) environments to facilitate online backups and restores of VMware virtual machines and VMFS file systems. Dell expects to have ASM/VE available as a free download by the end of the month.

The ASM/VE software coordinates the creation, recovery and scheduling of EqualLogic snapshots with VirtualCenter and VMware’s native snapshot technology, subsequently offloading snapshot processing from the ESX Server and boosting performance.

With the PS5500E, an EqualLogic SAN can scale up to 576TB under a single management interface. In addition, the new array can be added to a SAN group comprising existing EqualLogic systems.

Andrew Reichman, senior analyst at Forrester Research, says adoption of virtual server technology is growing rapidly, but there is still confusion and waste in underlying storage systems. Dell’s announcement, he says, is a step toward resolving some of the confusion.

“Server virtualization is a big driver for SAN adoption, but it’s clunky to manage storage for virtual server environments. Since a big part of provisioning virtual machines is providing the storage that goes behind it, integrating the storage management with the virtual server environment management is critical,” says Reichman.

Reichman believes Dell’s snapshot management tool, which allows administrators to pause applications to make a consistent copy without using custom scripts, as well as the added capacity found in the PS5500E give users a way to manage everything consistently using a relatively low-cost array.

The PS5500E is available direct from Dell and its PartnerDirect channel partners. The starting list price for a 48TB PS5500E is $78,000.

The debut of the PS5500E brings with it further speculation about the future of Dell’s storage partnership with EMC. However, Dell maintains there is a clear separation between its EqualLogic arrays and its co-branded EMC products.

“The value that EMC brings is a very feature-rich SAN that gives users all of the bells and whistles for configuring, managing, and growing a Fibre Channel SAN. The EqualLogic arrays were designed from the ground up to be iSCSI-connected for IT administrators that don’t want all of those features,” says John Joseph, Dell-EqualLogic’s vice president of marketing. “The EqualLogic customer wants to put it on autopilot and walk away.”

Forrester’s Reichman says Dell is committed to its relationship with EMC because Dell earn tremendous revenues from the volume of EMC products that it sells. Dell’s long-term storage strategy may center on its EqualLogic portfolio, but it is in no rush to alter its partnership with EMC.

“It is certain that [Dell] will continue to strengthen the EqualLogic portfolio and it is definitely their main focus and long-term vision in storage,” says Reichman. “The only downside to having both [product lines] side by side is the time and energy they spend on marketing the EMC-based product line and the potential conflict in messaging.”

Reichman concludes that as the EqualLogic product line gets stronger and more widely adopted, Dell will have to promote it as a product that provides greater simplicity, ease of use, and cost effectiveness than “traditional storage products,” such as EMC’s Clariion. “Dell is likely to continue to juggle both for the time being, but the pendulum will move toward the EqualLogic product line and vision in time,” says Reichman.

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