According to Dell, business doesn't buy enough Dell storage, not that Dell actually says that, but Paul Kaeley, EMEA storage head for Dell, says things that lead inevitably to that conclusion. First of all he says: "Storage is probably getting an unfair share of the IT budget." Dell's mission is to try and change the economics of storage, to make it affordable as well as capable. Dell wants to remove the complexity from storage, and make it scalable and simple to operate and own. We should take Dell seriously when it says this because, Kaeley implies, it has just been promoted into the leader's section of a Gartner magic quadrant for mid-range enterprise disk arrays, for the very first time.

I asked what the Dell storage attach rate was. Kaeley said he didn't know exactly but: "It's not high enough; it never is." Intuition says Dell sells lots storage mostly into its server customer base. Larger customers may be buying lots of Dell servers and having them access other vendors network-attached (NAS) or storage-attached arrays.

Dell thinks single-play storage vendors are at a disadvantage because: "More and more customers are looking for accountability across a system." It's the 'single throat to choke' idea and Dell would love customers to look to Dell's neck for this.

Tape vs disk

LTO4 tape drives are serious enterprise backup devices, with their drive-level encryption. Dell was first off the blocks with its LTO4 announcement, showing that it can move very quickly when it wants to, and showing also that it firmly believes tape still has a place. This is not to deny the growing strength of disk-to-disk (D2D) data protection. Dell is actively selling product here; for example, the ProStor RDX-based PowerVault RD1000 removable disk storage product.

The removable disk is for what Dell calls the HSB market - home and small business. The RD1000 offers twice as much capacity and performance as a DAT 72 tape drive and cartridge. Kaeley says it's been very well received by customers but won't say whether sales have been in the hundreds or thousands of units. He thinks the product is mostly being bought by people who have not backed up their servers before, greenfield sales. Higher-capacity versions are coming along.

Disk complements tape in the Dell storage data protection view. Dell offers a couple of tape autoloaders: The TL2000 with 9.6TB capacity and 22 cartridges; and the TL4000 with 17 TB and 44 cartridges. He wouldn't say who the original equipment vendor was. Obviously it's not Overland Storage.

What Dell does is to have a close, close relationship with its OEMs and bring product to market that's tailored for Dell's market. The company can act quickly and decisively, as shown with the original deal for EMC to supply the AX disk arrays, and by the ProStor RD1000 deal where Dell is only the second company, after Tandberg, to offer the product. No other large system vendor, or storage vendor, has followed in its footsteps. It will be interesting to see if anyone else does. ProStor is no doubt talking to other potential OEMs, and given HP and IBM's interest in small business it's not inconceivable that they could follow suit. It's possibly less likely that EMC, NetApp and similar storage companies will as they largely don't sell single drive disk products. Quantum has its own removable disk product and Imation is developing its Odyssey technology.

After the TL boxes there is an ML6000, offering up to 96TB in an ADIC (Quantum)-sourced tape library.

Dell disk products

Dell sells the MD3000 JBOD (just a bunch of disks), an external serial-attached SCSI (SAS) array. It's cheap storage and lots of it with up to 45 drives for direct-attached storage (DAS). It has bundled point-in-time copy (Snapshot) and is complemented by the MD1000 as a disk-based backup device - 'backup in a can.'

I was surprised to hear that Dell has sold a few Centeras through EMC. That is, Dell customers wanted a Centera device and Dell passed on the sale to EMC. That's enterprise-class business, not, as I thought, Dell's home ground.

Dell also has an NX1950, which is an iSCSI block or NFS/CIFS file-level array It's a Windows Unified Data Storage Server (WUDDS) product and gets single instance storage (SIS) from that. In other words it de-duplicates at the file level. The product front-ends a drive array which could be the MD3000. The NX1950 software includes full indexed text search, distributed file services, and management of user quotas, file screening, and storage reports.

Dell also has a file assessment service which can look at what data has been backed up, and how much of a customer's data is 'old data', as defined by a 'last accessed when' metric. Old data could be moved off primary storage and put on inexpensive, high capacity serial ATA (SATA) storage or archived off to tape if it is unlikely to be accessed much at all in the future.

Talking of the NX1950, Dell is keen on iSCSI, in my view. It speaks to Dell's idea of good value by providing for both block and file storage in a single product line.

Dell and acquisitions

Dell doesn't do technology acquisitions. It OEMs product for technology, not being interested in buying technology and developing its own storage products. Kaeley said: "We don't design in-house, proprietary technology." What Dell does do is put a Dell stamp on OEM'd product. It provides access to the market through the Dell channel, the awesome Dell channel, for products using technology Dell has decided its target customers need. When a vendor produces products that don't meet those needs or its manufacturing capability and quality isn't reliable enough then it gets dumped, witness Overland Storage. Dell certainly believes in a close business relationship with its OEMs but it doesn't do marriage - although it does do divorce.

It has taken a decision to build AX drive arrays itself, which shows how important it is for Dell to control its storage destiny in the drive array field. It is a member of the Storage Bay Bridge group and a member of the SNIA. The PowerVault MD3000 is Dell’s second storage product to comply with the Storage Bridge Bay 1.0 specification.

Storage standards help Dell sell storage kit by reassuring customers that Dell supports standards. Without standards there's less competition and higher prices. Through standards, Dell's low-priced, build-to-order, web and telephone sales model works. Dell kit can work with other vendors' kit. Standards are absolutely vital to Dell.

One acquisition it did make was of ACS, a consultancy group. Clearly it needed to gain consulting expertise and found it more effective to buy an existing consultancy than start up an in-house operation from scratch. Another thing it has is a proof-of-concept lab in Ireland for testing out customer system concepts. Kaeley mentioned 'cloud computing' as a new concept for the data centre.

Power, heat and cooling

Kaeley is keen on Dell. He enthuses about the company and his role in it: "Storage is strategic to Dell. It's the most exciting part." There is scope in the market for his products, for networked storage. This is partly coming about because of PHC concerns, worries about power, heat and cooling. Customers are telling Kaeley: "I don't have any more sockets in the wall."

Energy-smart servers can help reduce the power load; they get switched off if they are not needed. Virtual severs reduce the number of physical servers needing power. Virtual servers naturally encourage customers to consolidate storage to abandon DAS and move to networked storage. Also: "Server virtualisation has been a catalyst for storage vrtualisation. Virtual server backup has different needs." He's saying that virtual servers can encourage disk-based backup to virtual tape products.

A limit to Dell's approach became visible when Kaeley was asked about on-line storage which Dell doesn't supply. He said: "I'd look to understand the customer's storage problem and supply a Dell-based solution to it." What we can see here is that Dell is a box-shifter, a great and highly-efficient shifter of simple to use, scalable and performant storage boxes, with system-level consultancy and proof-of-concept capabilities as well. It ships kit to store data; it doesn't store its customers' data.

Maybe in Dell 2.0, the post-Rollins Dell, which is forming in front of our eyes, it will. In storage matters Dell has moved quickly and decisively, witness EMC and AX storage, the speed of its LTO4 product delivery, and its RDX deal. This contrasts, to my mind, with its anguished and lengthy decision making over using AMD processors and supplying pre-installed Linux. Now it does both. Dell 2.0 may well surprise us even more in the future.