Dell EMC PowerScale (Isilon) Review

Simplified our storage and enabled our IT team to move from an operational focus to an optimization focus

What is our primary use case?

Our motivation for investing in PowerScale was to provide scalable, redundant, and reliable storage for our film production pipelines. We're an animation film studio and our live data sits on it. Firstly, we were up to our capacity. We're a growing startup and we need to be able to scale into the future. The second reason we went with it is that we've got a relatively small IT team, so we needed equipment that's reliable and easy to manage. 

How has it helped my organization?

It's really set-and-forget. We went from our IT team from managing data, moving data, and deleting data on a day-to-day basis, over the course of six months to the point where, for the last 12 months, they have not had to touch it. It's really reliable, and the reporting heads off any issues that you might have.

In terms of the performance improvement, we've described it as moving from a single lane highway into a multi-lane freeway. We've still got speed limits in the individual end-user environment, but now more people can move at the same time without it throttling our system. One result is that on a local test we went from 61,000 milliseconds down to 5,500 on the PowerScale, which is a massive improvement. We have been able to leverage the features of the PowerScale to optimize that down, and that was while the pandemic was on, and we were moving from 100 percent on-premises, to 100 percent off-premises.

It has made a massive difference to how our IT team's time is utilized. It has pretty much been able to move from an operational focus, day-to-day, just keeping systems up in the environment, to now having an optimization mindset where they're looking to add new features to our production pipeline. They've got the time now to do that, whereas managing our storage before was a full-time job for them. It has saved me from having to hire one person over the last six months, and our IT team has gotten about 40 percent of its time back. It's a massive difference. We still have the same number of administrators as we had before, but it has allowed them to move from an operational focus to an optimization focus.

Before, we had disparate storage systems that we were managing separately, and now all our production storage sits within the one environment.

PowerScale allows us to manage storage without managing RAID groups or migrating volumes between controllers. It has really simplified things. We're not having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. That takes care of itself. We just worry about the data. It's really easy for deploying and managing storage at the petabyte scale.

It also provides the flexibility to add the right tier of storage at the right time for data that resides at the edge, core, or cloud and that is one of the reasons we chose the solution. We haven't leveraged that as yet, we're not at that point, but we definitely invested in this asset for that reason. Currently, we can build two concurrent projects, but we expect, by leveraging that technology, that we will be able to get to six concurrent projects, which will have a huge business impact.

Another benefit is that it has allowed us to better understand our storage usage and cost over a project's duration, and that's helping us to better plan and quote for future productions.

What is most valuable?

We have started to leverage the data from InsightIQ to be informed when quoting for future productions, and we're getting a better understanding of our usage and costs over a project duration.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've had Dell EMC PowerScale for 12 months.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We haven't had any issues at all. In fact, every day we say, "Oh my God, this is so amazing."

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We haven't added a node to the solution yet. We plan on putting in A200s, as we move between productions in our franchise. It's a new product for our team, so we're still trying to optimize what we already have. We haven't really looked to use any of their new features.

We haven't scaled the solution yet, but the reason that we could convince the board to allow us to invest in this technology was the scalability. One of the next challenges that we're going to have is how to store our historical project data. We need a solution that is going to be cost-effective, yet the data will still have to be readily accessible to our current production pipeline. The PowerScale and file pool policies will enable us to utilize the archiving, so that will likely be the next way we scale.

How are customer service and technical support?

We have found the post-installation support to be absolutely fantastic. They have helped us leverage the advanced features and that has hugely improved the performance of our custom applications that we have hosted on the PowerScale. Their tech support is great.

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

We didn't have a previous solution. We knew we needed a solution because every four to six weeks we were buying a new storage system. We had to make a decision on what to invest in. We reached out to our IT provider, Davichi, and they introduced us to the Dell EMC PowerScale. When we read up on it, it seemed to meet all our needs.

As a startup, we needed a technology that we could scale with. Secondly, we've got a small IT team, so the equipment needed to be reliable, easy to use, and there had to be additional support available when we needed it. We were also looking for additional features and options that we could leverage, like cross-platform support for SMB and NFS, because we were after a high-speed server and workstation access, because that was one of our pain points.

How was the initial setup?

Dell EMC were incredibly attentive through the deployment process. They met us on site and they took the time to understand our current environment, our current challenges, and they worked with us to make sure that we bought the licenses that were going to meet our needs for today. They also helped us plan for the licensing that we'll need into the future.

They met with our tech team and spent a day with us mapping out what our requirements were, looking at our environment, and making sure that we had the right networking, so that our foundation was right when we put it in. They physically installed the equipment and they continued to work with us over the next two weeks, just to make sure that everything was right. We put the PowerScale in when we were in production, at the end of a film, and we had no downtime at all. That was a massive concern for us, doing it while we were live in production, but they helped us move all the data across to the new system and we had no downtime.

We have a local IT company that introduced us to Dell EMC and this product, and they were also a part of that scoping session. They're called Davichi Computer Services, and they're amazing. We ring if we have a problem, and within a few hours someone's out there. If they can't solve it over the phone or can't remote-in, they'll come on site and help us solve the problem. Fortunately, since we put this gear in, we haven't had many issues. But even as we were learning to understand this gear they worked hand-in-hand with our IT team.

On our side, the deployment required one person, our IT manager. Everyone uses it, as an end-user, in our organization because all the data for our film production pipeline lives on it.

What was our ROI?

The total cost of ownership has been definitely worthwhile, hands-down. I had forecast the need to hire another administrator for our tech team and I haven't needed to do that.

In addition, our IT team is now concentrating on things that help our business grow and help our business make money and help our team achieve a better end product; things we couldn't have done if we'd invested in other products.

In addition to the standard fees, we had to buy switches. In the scoping sessions, when Dell EMC came on site, we identified what the capacity was in our server room to put the product in. The only thing that we didn't scope for was that we needed an additional UPS because the UPS that we had couldn't hold the load.

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

The only drawback for us is that it's a large upfront investment. This was a huge decision for a startup company to make. It took a bit for us to get over the line on it, but we have not regretted it.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at another Dell EMC solution. The reasons we went with PowerScale were the simplicity of managing it, the faster write performance than RAID systems, the data access optimization features, and, of course, it's fully redundant, with high performance, and it's scalable.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure you take the time to understand your current environment and what additional infrastructure you might need to support the device. All that planning made it a seamless implementation for us. Sometimes that part of the process felt like it was taking forever, but it ended up being well worthwhile.

It's allowed us to consolidate everything in one, large, redundant volume, but we expected that. Nothing has gone wrong. Everything's been exactly what we expected, which is wonderful.

I imagine that as time goes it will become more valuable, particularly as we get into a world where we're managing archive data. And we are looking to explore the cloud options as well.

I would rate PowerScale at nine out of 10 because of the greatly increased performance, the capacity, reliability, and the improved maintainability of our storage.

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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