Give your storage budget some TLC – and boost performance at the same time

Dell always seems to find a way to create new customer advantages, and today’s announcement of Dell Storage SC Series “Mainstream Read-Intensive” flash drives based on TLC 3D NAND technology continues that trend. Let’s recall some milestones:

  • 2013:  Dell multi-tier flash enables system-level “flash at the price of disk,” resulting in the highest year-over-year growth in hybrid flash capacity shipments by early 2014.
  • 2014:  Dell ships industry’s lowest-priced all-flash array (AFA) configuration1 to rave reviews.

Now, in Summer 2015, Dell is introducing the most dramatic cost-savings yet – redefining enterprise storage economics again with drive-level flash at the price of disk, plus a whole lot more.   

TLC 3D NAND: You are my density

TLC (Triple Level Cell) SSDs lower costs by packing more data capacity into tighter formats, doubling current flash density to 45TB/U. Combined with the efficiency of Dell’s Data Progression Intelligent Data Placement, including patented RAID tiering, the new technology cements SC Series’ role as the most affordable all-flash array, producing the lowest $/GB whether you look at list price, street price, or “street price for usable capacity.”

But it’s not just the immediate drive cost savings – it’s where these savings are applied that will turn heads. The SC Series architecture is uniquely equipped to leverage TLC strengths in ways competitors simply can’t match – even if they launch their own TLC-based solutions. In Dell’s hands, TLC provides powerful enhancements to nearly every array category:

1.    Higher performance for general purpose arrays

Customers with very modest budgets can now step up to faster storage solutions. For the first time, Dell is offering the SSDs themselves for the same $/GB as 15K hard drives. With AFAs as low as $1.66/GB street price, and large-scale hybrid solutions around $0.50/GB, an entire customer demographic that previously purchased only traditional spinning disk can move to flash. When they do, they can experience up to a 24x workload performance increase – and the resulting business productivity surge will be felt across multiple industries.

2.    Lower pricing for premium performance arrays

While Mainstream RI drives are definitely fast, Write-Intensive formats are up to 4x faster – and they offer greater endurance.

This is where competitors get locked out. As much as they would like to cost-reduce their fastest arrays, their single-tier flash architectures force them to jettison TLC price advantages once performance needs exceed certain thresholds. Competitors have no way to include TLC drives in their “premium performance” enterprise solutions, which remain as high-priced as ever.

Dell is different because we can combine flash formats in the same array: Write-Intensive (WI) in Tier 1 for all application writes, and less-expensive Read-Intensive SSDs (now including TLC) in our read-intensive, “write-managed” Tier 2. Like the titanium head on a carbon shaft golf club, a relatively small number of WI drives can provide a huge performance boost and greater endurance, while new Mainstream RI drives offer budget flexibility and shock-absorbing comfort, plus extended reach (capacity). It’s the perfect marriage of strength and flexibility.

Protected from heavy writes, TLC drives also last longer in Tier 2. Dell is so confident in this approach, we guarantee all SSD formats for life. As long as the array has a current service plan (ProSupport, or award-winning Copilot), we’ll replace any drives that wear out irrespective of wear level or maximum rated life.

Bottom line, Dell just cut the price of Tier 2 flash in half while preserving the incredible performance of its high-end flash-optimized arrays. It’s nothing short of revolutionary.

Future-ready: Start with affordable, go anywhere

Dell’s approach even lets customers easily and cost-effectively move from one configuration to another. For instance, you can begin with a single tier of Mainstream RI drives, add WI drives when performance demands increase, then a hybrid tier of “cheap and deep” 7.2K spinning disks for additional cold data cost savings as overall volumes grow. As always, tiering gives you more flexibility than locked-in monolithic solutions, allowing you to smoothly integrate new technologies to maximum advantage.

Best of all, rather than resting on a clear competitive lead, Dell continues to add new capabilities, such as block-level compression. And usable $/GB, already lower than competitors (even after they layer on “data reduction” post processes) will fall even further next year when Dell plans to offer dedupe as a free upgrade2. (Did I just say that out loud?) Save money now on your initial purchase. Save even more next year!

Watch for a string of TLC-related announcements as competitors follow Dell to deploy TLC. And be sure to keep an eye on how many real-life workloads the announced solutions actually benefit – or if they are segregated to a “one size fits some” niche on the low end. Because at the end of the day, everybody loves low prices, but we’re pretty sure you want enterprise performance and investment protection as well.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Be sure to let us know what you think by following us on Twitter, and we’d love to visit with you this fall at Dell World.

1 – For the Dell Storage SC4020 Entry-Level All-Flash single-tier configuration and based on Dell internal analysis leveraging data from industry sources for list and typical discount prices of mid-range arrays over 1TB, including support, as of January 8, 2015.  (#A14000615)

2 – Any statements regarding Dell’s future direction and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice, and represent goals and objectives only.

Travis Vigil

About the Author: Travis Vigil

Travis Vigil is Senior Vice President leading Portfolio and Product Management for Dell’s Infrastructure Solutions Group (ISG). He and his team are responsible for Dell’s Server, Storage, Data Protection, CI/HCI, Networking and Solutions businesses. He has over 20 years of Product Management, Marketing and Business Operations experience with technology companies including Intel and Dell. In previous roles at Dell, he served as Senior Vice President for Storage and Data Protection Product Management, and Senior Vice President for Business Operations focused on Dell’s Server, Storage and Networking Businesses. He has a B.S. from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.