Dell EMC PowerScale (Isilon) Review

Everything is consolidated, simplifying management and decreasing time spent administering the system

What is our primary use case?

We’re the world-leaders in webcam technology, content, and services. We do high-resolution imaging from cameras. We have millions of camera images a month coming into our network from our systems in the field. We store all of that image data, and then we edit those images into time-lapse movies.

How has it helped my organization?

We've had an 82 percent reduction in our systems administration resources.

One of the things we have also noticed is about a 20 percent reduction in our video processing time. Our video editors are able to work on editing natively, on the system, and that cuts down on a lot of time that was required to move data around. It helps their workflow. 

It's also giving us double the capacity in less space. We get about 26 times greater density, compared to our previous storage systems.

In addition, Dell EMC keeps adding new features and improving on existing ones. When upgrading from the old generation, the redundancy was restructured with the domains and different node schemes, giving us more fault tolerance.

In terms of flexibility, we have two different types of nodes, and we're able to change the performance on directories, depending on the usage. It allows us to manage the entire system without having to worry about specific LUNs. It literally takes me just a few minutes to configure something and apply it.

As we expand and have to add new things to our product line, we're able to scale very well, because we have visibility on our storage, our capacity, and our needs. It has definitely helped us from a business standpoint in that we don't have to be concerned about our storage environment. We always know where we stand.

PowerScale has also helped us to eliminate data silos. Everything is consolidated and, as a result, it has simplified how we manage things and how much time we spend administering the system. With all our data in one place, we don't have to manage different types of storage systems. Everything is just a single brand. We do have different nodes, but they all get administered the same way, so we don't have to relearn different things, such as how to manage the RAIDs, RAID groups, and different protocols.

The solution has definitely freed up a lot of time. We used to spend a lot of time on our previous system. PowerScale allows us to focus on data management rather than storage management and helps us get the most out of our data.

What is most valuable?

The most important things for us are the reliability and the ability to cut down on our system administration resources. It's very easy to manage, and we have very good visibility on how the storage system is being utilized. In addition to the reliability, it's very easy to work with and it's very fast. Its sustained throughput is probably 100 times faster than previous systems.

For maximizing storage utilization, PowerScale is great. When you write the data to it, it spreads it out to all the nodes, so you get all the performance from the entire pool.

In addition, managing storage at the petabyte scale is very easy if you go through the user interface. Everything is there. But if we want to do more complex things, we can use the CLI. Since we're very familiar with Unix/Linux CLI we feel comfortable making configurations changes through there.

Another thing we particularly like is the documentation available, and how you can self-troubleshoot a lot of things. I like to know why something does not work and Dell EMC provides extensive documentation with technical details of bugs or technical shortcomings.

What needs improvement?

There is room for improvement with the updates. It can take a significant amount of time to do a major OS update. However, even though it takes multiple reboots, the cluster stays up. If we want to apply a newer version of the OS, we have to roll back some of the patches so that we can upgrade. It requires a few reboots just to do that. The cluster doesn't come down, everything is still running, but it's time-consuming, at times.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using PowerScale for over five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We have five nines of uptime, 99.999. We have almost no downtime with the system.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is great. You plug in a new node and data starts migrating over to spread out the load. We've added multiple nodes to the system since deploying it. The process is pretty seamless, and we are able to do it with no downtime. It's a very easy process to do.

The fact that we could start with a few nodes and scale very large was one of the great things with this solution. With the other systems you could add "Bricks"—that's what they call them—but you had to set up LUNs, and we spent too much time managing that part of the system. Here, you just add it in and everything just scales up. Being able to add new nodes and increase the storage without having to redo the storage pool is great. That's one of the reasons we went with PowerScale. That was definitely a big selling point.

We're relying on it completely. I don't know if there's anything that we're not using it for. We're using it in production at full capacity.

We’re confident about the solution's ability to meet unpredictable future storage needs. I don't think there's been anything that we've needed so far that they haven't been able to accommodate. We're planning on staying with the platform for the future.

How are customer service and technical support?

I've used their technical support a few times when I had certain random issues. Sometimes the issue was Windows-related. Even when they were not able to give me an answer immediately, three hours later, after researching things, they got back to me with the correct answer and technical details on why the issue was happening. To me, that's great. That's something our previous vendor wasn't doing.

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

I've been with the company for 20 years, and we have had various enterprise-level storage systems over those years, but the immediate predecessor was Pillar Data Systems. The primary reason we switched to PowerScale was its ability to handle the types of data that we manage. We have over a billion very small—one-megabyte to 24-megabyte files—that we are writing to the system continuously. It's an archival storage process and PowerScale was very suited for that type of environment.

What we needed was to simplify our entire system: to have higher throughput, more redundancy, and the ability to scale without having to recreate different storage pools or LUNs, like we were used to doing.

We went with PowerScale for the reliability, the scalability, and the ease of management. 

How was the initial setup?

We had a lot of practice with the simulator, so once we actually had the hardware and the real system in here, we were already familiar with how to manage and do a lot of the configuration. That's something that is not available with other vendors or other systems.

Moving from the old storage, which was from another vendor, was a significant bottleneck and took months.

Upgrading from the older generation Isilon was seamless. We just plugged in the new generation nodes and told the OS to evacuate the data from the old nodes and the data migrated without downtime.

In terms of users of the system, on the management side it's our systems administration teams, so there are a handful of people involved. The people actually using the storage are our customers and our internal teams.

What about the implementation team?

Techs from EMC came over and helped us with the physical implementation, while a remote team helped us with configuration and data migration. Our experience with them was good.

What other advice do I have?

We would highly recommend PowerScale. We've been very happy with our overall experience.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

**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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