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Dell EMC launches PowerStore NVMe container-based storage array

PowerStore controller software is based on container modules for SAN and NAS storage, while the mid-range array is all-NVMe and aimed at performance-hungry use cases such as Splunk

Dell has launched a new range of mid-range arrays that is all-NVMe flash storage with a containerised operating environment for ease of deployment. PowerStore supersedes existing Dell EMC Unity and SC arrays, in terms of technology, although these two products will still be available.

“Unity and SC represent 30% of the global mid-range storage market – there is no question of us abandoning our clients overnight,” said Sébastien Verger, technical director of Dell EMC in EMEA. “PowerStore is aimed at new projects that need more speed, more density and easier administration.”

The PowerStore project dates back to 2018 and, at the time, Dell EMC was more definite that replacements for existing mid-range storage were on the way, with talk of PowerStore coming out in 2019.

A PowerStore appliance comes in a 2U form factor that comprises two active-active nodes and 25 NVMe drives. That capacity can be extended via an SAS connection to three shelves of 25 drives each for a total of 100 drives per appliance. Four of these can be clustered to attain capacity of 400 drives. Connectivity is via 10Gbps Ethernet.

PowerStore arrays come with Fibre Channel or iSCSI SAN connectivity to servers or Ethernet to the network for NAS connections. Dell EMC plans to add NVMe-over-fabrics but did not specify when or via what method that will be.

Dell EMC said maximum capacity goes to 2.8PB usable per 8U of appliance rackspace and 11.3PB per cluster of 32U, with a rate of data reduction of 4:1 and using drives of around 7TB raw each.

The array maker downplayed possible fears of the need to use inline compression or deduplication to attain a 4x boost in usable capacity from the raw figures due to the use of an ASIC for the first time. That means a claimed zero impact on performance by offloading work from the CPU.

Dell EMC reckons a PowerStore appliance will be 7x faster than a Unity 880XT, with 3x less latency. But we don’t know what drives or connectivity Dell EMC used to get those numbers.

PowerStore can be equipped with Intel Optane NVMe drives as a result of the use of the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors. That brings about 550,000 IOPS and 2.5GBps to 3GBps for reads.

Optane performance stays the same for writes, too, whereas with NVMe generally it will be 10x less in terms of IOPS and 50% in terms of GBps throughput on writes.

By comparison, NVMe performance is 5x to 10x better than the SAS or SATA solid state found in Unity XT arrays.

Besides the increases in performance, the other notable development in PowerStore is its operating system. Each of the functions in PowerStoreOS is a virtual instance in a container. The Linux-based system does not use Kubernetes, but has a Dell EMC-built orchestrator.

Read more on containers and storage

“The benefit of containers is their modularity,” said pre-sales engineer Daniel Watelet. “The NAS function is a container, and the SAN function is another, while the supplementary services are also containerised. So it is possible to update each of these individual modules without having to stop and restart things, by downloading update packages that are much smaller than those used to update an entire machine.”

It is also possible to run PowerStore with a VMware ESXi hypervisor built in via a virtual image. This functionality is known as AppsON.

“We want the user to be able to use their storage array to run virtual machines in cases where that’s appropriate,” said Watelet. “It’s not a case of competing with our hyper-converged infrastructure products. The strength of PowerStore is not in running business applications, but rather in supporting services that access storage in an intensive manner, such as activity log analysis with Splunk.”

No object storage functionality is planned for PowerStore, however.

“In the types of usage we see in the enterprise, object storage remains the preserve of dedicated storage arrays,” said Verger. “So, we would propose object storage via ECS arrays which does only that, or via Isilon which can provide object storage and NAS.”

But what about a container with object storage functionality in future? “Maybe,” said Verger.

Read more on Flash storage and solid-state drives (SSDs)

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