Dell EMC PowerScale (Isilon) Review

Our storage I/O performance is three times what we had before

What is our primary use case?

We are using Dell EMC PowerScale as a central storage for our virtual HPC infrastructure based on VMware.

We have several silos today, as our HPC infrastructure is typically divided between bare-metal and virtual configurations. The storage that we use on various infrastructures is different, as we are typically using a storage style that is different from any production facility. Until now the request from our internal users was to keep the data separated in different storage silos, and converging in central storage facility while on the virtual HPC is the new request. Therefore, we are experimenting how it works.

We have five nodes of F200s. 

How has it helped my organization?

This is the best platform that we could have for storage utilization. It is affordable and scalable. At the end of the day, it's something that we find very easy to use. Our administrators and people are very happy with the platform.

Now, our storage I/O performance is three times what we had before, even if we had not optimized the networking that is hosting the infrastructure. For this reason, our internal users are very happy.

What is most valuable?

We know how to deal with the OneFS system very well. 

It is easy to use and scale. It is probably the easiest, most scalable storage that we have ever used with our infrastructure. It improves the performance of our infrastructure. We have some other types of storage, but they are not as simple to use like PowerScale.

The ease of use and installation have cut the time of putting a new storage solution into production. This has been very useful for us.

What needs improvement?

Some improvements to the NFS support would be of interest to us. I think that will be available next year.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using it for less than a year. We just bought the platform in May, then we did a couple of months of testing. Now, it is in production. We bought the solution as soon as it was announced, but you have to take into account the time of the delivery and testing. With the pandemic, everything is unfortunately slower.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability of PowerScale is incredible. It's not so different from Isilon. PowerScale is a sort of Isilon on steroids. It has the same scalability and reliability of the Isilon platform, but now you have a lot of performance, so it is a sort of super Isilon from a customer usage point of view.

In the year that we have had it in production, the solution has demonstrated stability and performance. It is something that we rely on for our simulation infrastructure.

There is a team of three who maintain all the infrastructure for PoweScale. It is easy to manage as soon as you have it setup.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It scales seamlessly. We started three nodes, then we added two and there were no problems. The impressive part: Now creating or expanding a PowerScale cluster is almost immediate. In the past, you needed more time. 

As of today, we have around 15 research groups doing work on the platform, but we have only started the production phase after weeks of testing.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support is perfect. We are more than satisfied. They are responsive with good turnaround times.

We have several Dell EMC solutions. We are familiar with their support and are more than happy with it.

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

For NFS and CIFS services, we used Isilon and now PowerScale. We have lengthy Isilon experience in our data center. Today, we have still a Dell EMC Isilon H600 hybrid in production, but we decide to go to PowerScale to host our simulation facility. Typically, the workloads in which we are hosting on our virtual HPC environment come from engineering and chemical simulations as well as the latest AI and deep learning workloads.

We were beta testers from the first platform of Isilon before it was acquired by Dell EMC. Its scalability, ease of use, and performance were key. When PowerScale came out, we didn't try to buy another platform for this kind of work.

We have been very satisfied with our Isilon experience as a centralized system for HPC. PowerScale is much better than the Isilon that we had before.

How was the initial setup?

The platform is really straightforward to install and use, so we are not losing too much time setting up the storage as is and have more time to deal with the data on it.

The initial deployment took one day to set up. You do have to do some preparation for the setup, especially on the networking side. However, on the infrastructure, the platform is easy and straightforward to set up. The preparation was to prepare the networking, where you will be connecting the machines, such as, the typical networking configuration and VLANS, then you are ready to go.

It is immediate to add a new node and put that inside your configured cluster, e.g., when we installed the new PowerScale, the installation of the operating system was very quick. It was really unbelievable. We came from the first generation of Isilon where the installation of the operating system was not so fast. The F200 skyrockets onto the OneFS. Though, if we could afforded the F600, then that would be also faster. However, what we can afford is the F200, and we are happy now with that.

We have seen an improvement of performance without losing too much time when setting up the new platform.

What about the implementation team?

We did the implementation ourselves with the help of the Dell EMC support team, who set up the system. One person, myself, took a half a day to set up the infrastructure and another day to install it, then putting the platform in production.

Our infrastructure is directly managed by us.

What was our ROI?

We have improved the performance and reliability of our HPC storage. We are very happy with it. Our systems are typically used for research. The added value is in the performance. Typically, it's not a problem saving money. It is more a problem of how much research you are able to do, how many jobs you're able to afford, and so on. In this sense, PowerScale, in our infrastructure, is really a winning piece. Today, we have three times the performance on the I/O. The gain that we have with the I/O is significant.

Isilon was an incredible return on investment. I think PowerScale will be the same because it's giving us the performance that we were looking for at an affordable price. 

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

The platform is not cheap. However, on the software side, you can choose what you want license. So, you can start your licensing with the features that you need, then after buying the platform add some other features. 

We went for the traditional NFS and CIFS platform. We have also licensed the HDFS platform because we want to do something with the HDFS.

There are some new features, but we are not using all the features because you need licensing for all them. However, we are seeing that the platform is growing. At the end of the day, when we will need some more features, we will license some more of those features, knowing that they will have them.

The F600 machine of PowerScale is much better than what we have. It has MDM drives and 100 GB connection with the same software.

I know that you can license also some enterprise class features on the platform, but we are not using those features today.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I have a small team who analyzed the market, but it is difficult to find some competition for PowerScale with the same performance and price. Something that was important during our decision was you have to teach a technician the new platform, and maybe that takes time. In this case, the integration of the PowerScale was almost seamless for the infrastructure and internal technicians.

Apart from Isilon, we are using DDN. We also have some parallel side systems that we are using production with our HPC. However, PowerScale is really the easiest to use.

What other advice do I have?

I would recommend going for this solution.

PowerScale is already at the edge of the technology. If you give a look at what you find on the market today from the technology point of view, PowerScale hardware and software are at the top.

80 percent of our operations are brands, especially for HPC, but our organization is moving to the cloud from some services.

We have discussed with Dell EMC their roadmap of the platform and are very interested in it. We hope we will be able to afford the new features that will come up, like the NVMe nodes.

We have some projects using the S3 protocol, but not on PowerScale. They are on the old Isilon for HDFS.

We use the CloudIQ feature to monitor performance and other data remotely. We have two platforms on the CloudIQ: PowerScale and PowerStore. We haven't use the platform yet so much that it has been useful. We have typically been users of InsightIQ software to monitor infrastructure. Now, we are using the CloudIQ, but do not much experience.

We are not thinking about using it as an enterprise platform. However, we do see increasing our usage over time.

I would rate this solution as a 10 out of 10.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?


Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**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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