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Dell EMC gives the green light for Isilon All-Flash arrays

Dell EMC shows off Isilon All-Flash scale-out NAS array at first Dell EMC World; also extends EMC management and data protection to Compellent arrays.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Isilon, the last EMC primary storage system to go all-flash, will join the all-solid-state club in early 2017.

Dell EMC formally launched Isilon All-Flash today at Dell EMC World. The scale-out NAS platform is part of the flash strategy the storage behemoth will lay out at its first user conference since Dell's acquisition of EMC closed Sept. 7. Last week, Dell EMC added a VMAX all-flash model along with inline compression and support for 15 TB solid-state drives (SSDs).

Also at the show, Dell EMC said EMC management and data protection applications will support Dell's SC (formerly Compellent) storage platforms.

EMC teased Isilon All-Flash as "Project Nitro" at EMC World in May but gave few details until today.

Unlike Isilon's hard disk drive (HDD) systems, Isilon All-Flash uses a bladed node architecture. A 4U Isilon All-Flash array is a four-node cluster with a capacity of 92 TB to 924 TB. Dell EMC claims a 4U chassis can deliver 250,000 IOPS and 15 GB per second of aggregate bandwidth. A scale-out cluster can support 100 systems with 400 nodes and 92.4 PB in a single file system and volume.

Isilon is laser focused on unstructured data -- customers commonly scale to hundreds if not thousands of terabytes of capacity.
Sam Grocottsenior vice president of marketing and product management, Dell EMC

Isilon All-Flash can include 1.6 TB, 3.2 TB and 15 TB MLC SSDs. Each chassis holds 60 drives.

Isilon All-Flash runs the OneFS file system in Isilon's HDD arrays, and the flash systems can be clustered with all-HDD configurations to forge a hybrid cluster.

OneFS supports NFS, SMB, Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), NDMP, FTP and object storage (through OpenStack Swift). Its SmartPools and CloudPools automated storage tiering capabilities will move data across SSD and HDD media.

Data will be tiered dynamically based on performance needs. "The hybrid approach allows customers to deploy just enough flash," said Sam Grocott, senior vice president of marketing and product management for emerging tech at Dell EMC.

Isilon's history and siblings

Previous versions of Isilon arrays had small amounts of flash to store metadata. OneFS was optimized to read and write to flash for Isilon All-Flash. OneFS already supported deduplication, which can extend the usable capacity of SSDs.

EMC's all-flash platforms include XtremIO, VMAX All-Flash, Unity All-Flash and DSSD D5. EMC declared 2016 the year for all-flash for primary storage last February. Isilon won't make the cut for general availability in 2016, although it is in customer trials now. Dell EMC will begin taking customer orders next week, but the platform will not be generally available before 2017.

Dell EMC will not provide pricing details for Isilon All-Flash until it becomes generally available.

Grocott said Isilon was the last EMC primary storage system to go all-flash because scale-out NAS use cases did not demand SSD performance until recently. But customers who see benefits of flash for block storage are now looking for a similar boost for unstructured data.

"Isilon is laser focused on unstructured data -- customers commonly scale to hundreds if not thousands of terabytes of capacity," Grocott said. "The file storage use case has not required latencies and throughput provided by flash until recently. Also, the economics of flash have changed. It's more economical to deploy now."

Grocott said the economics still favor hybrid configurations over all-flash, although he expects to see all-flash clusters as well.

"Best practice will be to take advantage of flash and hard disk drives in a combined configuration," he said. "A lot of customers will choose to build a dedicated all-flash scale-out NAS, but why do that unless you have to?"

Dell EMC's new Isilon All-Flash array.
Dell EMC revealed its new Isilon All-Flash array.

Last to the AFA party

Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Mark Peters said EMC is going to the last area of primary storage that has been underserved by flash.

"Essentially every Dell EMC product is integrating -- or even [becoming] solely -- flash storage," Peters said. "The key roadblock in the past has been unstructured data workloads which require massive capacity scaling, cost-effective storage, and enterprise file system features. The all-flash Isilon looks to deliver on these points. Dell EMC is also making it easy for non-flash customers to adopt flash. The all-flash Isilon can be pooled with existing Isilon arrays, eliminating the need to rip and replace the existing infrastructure or deploy a separate silo."

Grocott said he expects media or entertainment, life sciences and Hadoop analytics customers will be most likely to adopt Isilon All-Flash.

Pure Storage's new FlashBlade will be a prime competitor for Isilon All-Flash. FlashBlade, which has a similar form factor and also targets unstructured data, is in limited release now.

Dell EMC is also adding support for EMC management applications on Dell SC storage platforms. Dell EMC ViPR Suite, Intelligent Data Mobility, PowerPath multipathing, VPLEX continuous availability and CloudArray cloud tiering will all work with Dell's legacy storage by the end of 2016. Also, Dell EMC said Data Domain disk backup, Data Protection Suite (including NetWorker and Avamar) and RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines will support SC arrays.

Next Steps

Hybrid storage arrays may actually be on the way out

All-flash arrays have to be ready for enterprise use

Things you need to know before deploying all-flash arrays

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