How Dell Storage SC4020 Stays Skinny on Capacity Usage, Fat on IOPs

One of the things I like about the new Dell Storage SC4020 is that there’s no performance penalty for saving money by reducing capacity usage. Sure, other array vendors tout cost-saving benefits for various data reduction features, but chasing down the net impact can become a real shell game, since gains in one area often produce unexpected disadvantages in another. SC4020 is uniquely equipped to deliver “no compromises” performance while stretching your IT dollar to store more data on fewer drives.

Data Reduction ultimately is about buying fewer drives, particularly on Tier 1 – and no one is better at optimizing that space than Dell. The award-winning Dell Compellent Storage Center architecture on which the SC4020 is based runs all new data through your fastest drives by default for high-IOPs reads and writes – but stores less on those drives long-term. By leveraging several storage types (including multiple SSD categories or hybrid SSD/HDD configurations), you enable a more effective range of cost-saving techniques – and completely eliminate the need for other methods which may have a negative performance impact.  

Vendors with less efficient tiering – or none at all – are forced to bolt on compensating processes to avoid devouring huge amounts of disk space. Controller-intensive, disruptive processing and/or IOPs stolen from primary storage are used to squeeze data indiscriminately, even when it takes a toll on performance or drives up the system cost. These vendors point to high factors of supposed data reduction vs. traditional storage, when simply managing Tier 1 capacity efficiently in the first place would provide superior results. Single-tier solutions are particularly vulnerable – if you can’t move even your coldest historical data off expensive Tier 1 Flash drives, you’ll be willing to accept almost any tradeoff to gain back some space.

SC4020 cranks up Tier 1 performance unapologetically, unencumbered by overhead; while using the industry’s most advanced tiering techniques to minimize overall drive spend.

Don’t throttle your data to save costs – place it intelligently

No other mid-size array offers this range of capacity-extending features that actually enhance performance, including

  • Thin Provisioning – SC4020’s fully-virtualized architecture enables on-demand block allocation, with no need to capture space or IO potential for empty LUNs.   Included and automatic on the SC4020, thin provisioning ensures capacity purchases remain in line with actual business use.
  • Thin RAID Provisioning – Since SC Series products support multiple RAID levels per drive, there’s no need to tie up resources with pre-configured RAID disk groups.   Each RAID level expands and contracts dynamically across a fully-virtualized storage pool, allowing the array to optimize reads and writes separately on the same tier, while giving every operation complete access to the performance of all drives.
  • Thin Writes – By far the simplest way to save money on data storage is to write less of it in the first place – or at least to avoid writing it redundantly. Independent of thin provisioning, advanced algorithms on the SC4020 eliminate the space-consuming zeroes typically generated when databases and/or virtualized environments are created. This inline “reclaim” ability, unusual to find in a mid-range array, facilitates performance-enhancing software best practices, without wasting capacity.
  • Thin Clones / Snapshots – Many arrays accelerate capacity usage by creating a full physical copy every time users clone a database for testing/analytics, or even when they snapshot volumes. SC4020’s space-efficient alternative freezes blocks in place (without copying), recording only metadata pointers and incremental changes as new writes come in.
  • Data Progression – SC4020’s automated tiering methods reduce expense not only by moving data to more cost-effective lower tiers (although they do that very effectively) but also by converting RAID 10 writes to read-optimized RAID 5/6 while the data is still on Tier 1. The RAID 10 portion of the tier provides a high-speed and flexible “write layer,” while the RAID 5/6 portion serves up the same performance for read-only blocks in 50% less space. Given that most data writes are read just once, or never again, the ability to optimize reads and writes differently is essential to full datacenter efficiency. Moving cold data completely out of Tier 1 flash – while ensuring hot data stays there – provides far more savings than add-on data reduction techniques.

The performance and cost numbers prove the combined advantage of these features: SC4020 can provide over 120,000 Oracle IOPs with less than 1ms latency – plus enough density to host 10,000 MS Exchange mailboxes in a 2U rack space.   Deployed as an all-flash solution, SC4020 costs up to 72% less than competing all-flash arrays.

And it’s not just Dell talking. Of the over 75 actively sold arrays submitted for ranking by the 2014 Storage Performance Council SPC-1 benchmark, the SC4020 was the lowest-price solution delivering over 100,000 IOPs. When you consider that many of these vendors use the same drives under the covers – you’ll realize there must be something fundamentally better about Dell’s approach.

Of course, I’m biased, but you should check it out. This is a major strategic benefit, and it’s much more affordable than you might assume. No more shell game – you can finally keep an eye on performance and cost at the same time. We’d love to hear your thoughts about Dell Storage and the SC4020. Please follow us on Twitter and share your feedback.

About the Author: Marty Holmes