Dell EMC PowerScale (Isilon) Review

Allows us to see everything as one large volume, instead of having multiple volumes all over the place


What is our primary use case?

We used it originally for archiving our video storage, and then we expanded it to include user shares. All of our unstructured data has been moved to PowerScale.

How has it helped my organization?

We moved our shares over. Now, instead of taking up a large amount of space on a virtual machine, our shares take it up on one appliance. The load on that virtual machine is much less and it makes it easy to future-proof it, because now we don't have to move it again in the next migration of servers.

We have saved about 30 percent on storage with it. And as we grow, we get more space, meaning the efficiency improves each time we add a node. We went from 75 percent efficiency to 82.5 percent efficiency when we expanded.

The solution provides us with the flexibility to add the right tier of storage at the right time for data that resides at the edge, core, or cloud. That really is nice. We did one use case where we put it out at the edge, and it was nice to have the Isilon at the edge. It really helped improve things. It helped the storage of the cameras, and it helped get the data back to the core in a reasonable time. It allowed us to go from the edge to the core and then up to the cloud, instead of trying to go from the very edge to cloud.

PowerScale also allows us to manage storage without managing RAID groups or migrating volumes between controllers. It simplifies the storage. It allows us to see everything as one large volume instead of having multiple volumes all over the place.

And when it comes to the business value of our data, it allows us to see what's being used and how it's being used, and we can do so much more quickly and efficiently. As a result, we can better evaluate how we're storing the data.

It has also helped us to reduce data silos. We used to have four video servers out there, all storing data. On the home farm, now, we're down to one server storing data in one location, and that includes all the user shares. 

All our data is in one place and that has increased performance. We could never afford to say, "Let's have this information on solid-state," and allowed the OneFS to decide, based on usage, of where it would be stored: on a fast drive or on a slow drive. It automatically does that in the background for us, instead of our having to manually move it and then have the user change where they get the information from.

In addition, it has simplified management by consolidating our workloads. It's all done in the same portal now. And while it hasn't reduced our number of storage admins, it has definitely reduced the time we spend looking at it, so we can focus on other efforts. It saves me about five hours a week.

Another benefit is that it allows us to focus on the data rather than where it's stored. Now, we don't have to worry about moving it around from place to place to get efficiencies out of the data. We just have it all in one place. The single interface, the SmartPools policy, decides where it needs to reside.

What is most valuable?

The single pane of glass for both IT and for the end-user is a valuable feature. On the IT side, I can actually control where things are stored, whether something is stored on solid-state drives or spinning drives, as well as the access users get. But the end-user doesn't distinguish the difference between a file and its folder; the end-user doesn't have to see the difference.

The single pane of glass makes it very easy to use and very easy to understand. We started at 100 terabytes and we moved to 250 and it still feels like the exact same system and we're able to move data as needed. There are no performance issues based on how large the storage is.

Adding a node is as simple as racking and stacking the items. It takes about two to three hours to put it into the rack. Once you have it all wired up, it takes you about an hour or 90 minutes with Dell, just to configure things and make sure it's all working. Then you just redefine your policy for where you want the items stored. We just expanded to include the solid-state, a full F200 node, and we just redefined where we wanted those files stored, whether on the super-fast solid-state or on the slow archival mode. Then, overnight, it ran that script and moved all the files around to help increase performance.

We also use the CloudIQ feature to monitor performance and other data remotely. It gives us better insight into where the data's stored and the access times involved. It gives me a better understanding of what's really being accessed and helps me decide what I can move to slower drives first, and what needs to stay in the front-end and remain very fast.

What needs improvement?

There aren't many templates still coming out for it. They need to provide templates so we can copy and paste what we've done in the past to future, new things.

The refresh of the interface with version 9 did help a lot of the things. They are at least improving it.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Dell EMC PowerScale for about a year and a half.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's very stable. It's one of the first solutions that I feel comfortable working with during the business day, while people are using it, knowing that I can change things and it's not going to take the system down.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

One of the things I like the most about it is the fact that we can scale out now. If we need more space, we order more nodes and it just changes the file structure; it just expands. There are no more individual drives, new arrays, moving things around. It'll just be there.

The future-proofing of what we're doing is a great thing too, because in five years when we're ready to replace that node, just due to its age, we can put the new one in and tell it to archive the old unit. It will move all the files over, in the background, and then we will just remove the old unit. There's no more having to tell users that, "Oh, this whole share is moving and all this stuff is getting done."

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support has been really good. It's pretty intuitive to put a ticket in, both through their email and through the calling system. It's usually pretty seamless to get to talk to somebody to actually resolve the issue.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

Before PowerScale it was just MD Storage Arrays, the standard, and the LUNs that you'd have anywhere. We eliminated that with this. We originally started with PowerScale for our video system. We were looking for a better system, in the long-term, to store our archival video and process it. We looked at unstructured data solutions and picked PowerScale for that and for the future-proofing.

Also, because we are a large Dell EMC shop, it allowed us to keep it all on the same platform. In looking to do things on a larger scale, it allowed us future compatibility, much more easily. Its ability to meet unpredictable future storage needs looks great. It feels like a great solution and it was the right direction for us.

How was the initial setup?

The first setup was pretty complex and a little different to do. Once we had the core system set up, the next deployment was much easier. The complexity came from changing our thought process, internally, regarding how we store files and how unstructured data really works, and then, how to efficiently use this.

Our deployment took about a week. We did a slow move-over, and we still continue to move anything we find over to it.

In terms of administration of the solution, for the most part it's just me who does a lot of the core work. All the users on the farm are using the system now, meaning about 350 people are accessing the data on the Isilon.

What about the implementation team?

We used the reseller, Dell EMC, for the deployment, and it was a great experience. They were there to help us and make sure we understood where we were going and what we were doing.

What was our ROI?

The fact that, with PowerScale, we could start with a few nodes and scale very large made it very cost-efficient for us. It allowed us to start out, see what it can do, and evaluate the product before we actually did a larger investment in it. We invested into it again three months later.

I'd like to say we have seen ROI because we're feeling like we're really starting to store data better and understand what's going on, more than we did a year-and-a-half ago.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

It's one of those situations where you have to find the right price for you. When we talked to the reseller, we were able to negotiate the right price for what we needed.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at HPE and IBM.

I liked the interface of the PowerScale much better than the other ones. It was more intuitive. I logged on and could almost get to work with it right away. I felt like I could hop on and just start using it, whereas with the other ones I felt that there was a larger, steeper learning curve.

What other advice do I have?

Dell EMC keeps adding more features to the solution's OneFS operating system. The last addition was its CloudPools and that allows us to do backups to the public cloud for the data that we want to keep but don't even need on-prem anymore. It turned the system into a never-ending resource. We can now decide what we want to keep, long-term, without having to expand our storage system.

PowerScale is one of those things that will grow in your environment. Once you start it with one thing, you'll learn that it can do much more, very quickly. That's a great thing about starting small with it, you can expand very quickly later on.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises
**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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