EqualLogic User Conference: The Virtual Era

I believe iSCSI will emerge as the dominant type of storage area network (SAN) within five years, exceeding Fibre Channel and FCoE storage in external arrays shipped by 2015. Underneath this technology transition, the interaction between leading iSCSI vendors and data center managers is where the rubber hits the road. That means Dell’s EqualLogic User Conference in rainy San Diego is the perfect place to hear the market leader’s vision for the future, the reaction from IT professionals, and ultimately to validate if my projections are on-track.

Tuesday was the first full day of the conference. With keynotes and technical sessions full, it appears to be very well attended. Considering how corporate travel is discouraged these days, I’m pleasantly surprised at how many storage admins from large corporations made it to San Diego.

Darren Thomas, VP and General Manager for Dell Storage, opened the conference with a presentation that defined our industry’s acceleration into the Virtual Era. Unlike many presentations I’ve heard that fast forward to new technology, Mr. Thomas spent the better part of his keynote creating a clear, customer-driven context for Dell’s vision. IT has always been used by smart corporate management teams to create business advantage, but Dell suggests that creating advantage today means deploying “real-time” IT. 

Mr. Thomas described a few examples, including how his sons switched from hosted e-mail to web-mail. They switched because Google Mail and Yahoo Mail gave them access from anywhere, more mailbox capacity, and automatically checked every e-mail for viruses. He went on to mention that free, or “pay as you go” e-mail, now far exceeds corporate e-mail in capacity and service. Dell’s point is that advanced cloud implementations at Google and Yahoo are agile because they’re architected to accommodate constant change, and because they span from back office to front pocket.

Mr. Thomas went on to describe virtualized environments that form the foundation of private and public clouds, and cited examples of how the Virtual Era will be powered by Dell. According to Mr. Thomas and Dell, the Virtual Era requires cloud-like architectures to be flexible and efficient, and what makes that possible is Intelligent Infrastructure.

Dell defines Intelligent Infrastructure as stateless servers that can be deployed in seconds; workload driven networks with provisionable security, QoS and availability; and storage that automatically manages redundancy requirements; provides efficient tiering and dedup by preset policies; can expand and contract seamlessly; delivers balanced performance; and is application aware…again, all automatically.

The blue print for Intelligent Infrastructure is an architecture Dell calls Peer Scaling. By implementing this architecture, data center resources will never get out of balance because they will have designed into their environment seamless expansion to manage bandwidth, capacity and IOPS. With Peer Scaling, there will never be another forklift upgrade because the intelligent infrastructure is multi-generational—meaning it is designed with the ability to weave new server, storage or networking technology tightly into the old environment. In addition, any standards-based infrastructure designed under the Peer Scaling architecture can be remotely deployed for maximum IT flexibility and control. A prototype for Peer Scaling is the latest generation of EqualLogic iSCSI storage.  These storage systems already offer the ability to automatically manage redundancy; provide tiering by preset policies; plus expand and contract seamlessly.

The last part of the presentation was truly exciting as Darren Thomas showed how technology from recent acquisitions Scalent (now known as Advanced Infrastructure Manager or AIM) and Ocarina embody the Dell vision, and how they will work together to automate much of what makes virtual environments so complex to deploy and manage today. Mr. Thomas showed how AIM sets workload personas and deploys them by assigning each workload to a stateless server that meets the policy “persona.”   He showed how simple it is to then redeploy new or additional workloads to the stateless servers in just seconds. The AIM technology is integrated with EqualLogic storage today and I fully expect that EqualLogic storage will soon respond to workload changes by automatically expanding capacity, bandwidth and IOPS. He then showed how Dell will be able to deliver handhelds, laptops, servers, and storage with Ocarina plug-ins that can automatically compress and de-compress data. I believe that minimizing storage for desktop virtualization and stateless servers may be killer apps for Dell’s Ocarina technology, and the next wave of dedup technology.

It’s clear Dell has been listening to their customers because their vision addresses the problems that need to be solved in order for the IT industry to continue accelerating into the Virtual Era. I’m looking forward to day 2 of the conference.


posted by: Frank Berry