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Dell's data deduplication strategy: partner for target and host dedupe products

Dell takes the 'it's a feature, not a product,' approach to data deduplication, and adds the feature in as many places as possible.

While other vendors are bidding billions to own their data deduplication products, Dell would rather partner for data deduplication technology.

Dell today said it would sell CommVault's Simpana 8 backup software that does block-level dedupe for disk and tape both as standalone software with any Dell hardware and on its DL2000 disk backup product, and will carry EMC Corp.'s EDL1500 virtual tape library (VTL) under the Dell brand later this year. Dell already sells EMC's Avamar and Symantec Corp.'s PureDisk host-based deduplication software, and offers a set of professional services to help customers decide where dedupe fits best.

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Brett Roscoe, Dell's senior product manager for enterprise storage, said Dell considers deduplication a critical tool for managing storage but not a standalone product.

"We feel deduplication is a feature rather than a solution," he said. "It's one of many tools we can throw at customers. While we believe there's a market for appliance-based target deduplication, we believe there's a migration to other types of deduplication, and as that occurs we want to make sure Dell is putting it all in the right places."

EMC and NetApp agree with the importance of deduplication, but would rather own the technology. The vendors are battling for target-based dedupe vendor Data Domain, which has accepted NetApp's $1.9 billion offer while EMC decides whether it should increase its $1.8 billion bid. EMC bought Avamar two years ago for host-based deduplication.

Vendors lining up for dedupe

Storage vendors have lined up in recent years to buy or partner with smaller vendors that have dedupe technology. IBM Corp. acquired Diligent Technologies last year, Hewlett-Packard (HP) has an OEM deal with VTL vendor Sepaton, and Sun Microsystems (recently acquired by Oracle), Copan Systems and other vendors partner with FalconStor for dedupe software. EMC already has an OEM deal with tape and VTL vendor Quantum Corp. for deduplication for its disk library platform. Hitachi Data Systems partners with Diligent, and there have been whispers in the industry that it would like to strike an OEM deal with Data Domain rather than get its deduplication technology from rival IBM.

Dell said last November it would integrate Quantum's deduplication software stack with its PowerVault and EqualLogic IP SAN hardware, and provide a common management framework for using Quantum deduplication with Dell and EMC hardware. While Dell supports Quantum's dedupe and replication now through its partnership with EMC, Roscoe wouldn't comment on any possible new products using Quantum dedupe or speculate on what would happen if EMC buys Data Domain.

Dell's strategy is good news for CommVault, which added block-level dedupe to its latest version of Simpana. Dell is already CommVault's largest OEM partner and carried Simpana 7, but both vendors said there is great customer interest for deduplication licenses. The street price of the DL2000 starts at $25,000 with deduplication, about $5,000 more than without deduplication.

The DL2000 -- based on the Dell PowerEdge 2950 server -- scales to 144 TB of usable disk space, and Dell claims a dedupe ratio of up to 20-1 on the DL2000. CommVault said its internal testing shows an ingestion rate of 1.5 TB per hour when running Simpana 8 on the DL2000.

Analysts said Dell is trying to stay flexible with its dedupe offerings rather than lock itself into one type.

"It's not in Dell's interest to own the specific dedupe technology, because it's customer base is so varied," IDC analyst Benjamin Woo said. "Dell is clearly aiming for the midmarket and being able to offer customers different approaches. It's also taking a services approach -- dedupe is not something you can go to and buy and install. It requires a certain knowledge to go down the dedupe route."

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse said, "Inevitably this is a feature of a storage system or an application. It's not a standalone function. The avenue Dell is pursuing is to have lots of different solutions."

The downside of partnering for dedupe is it leaves Dell reliant on others for the technology. What happens if a larger vendor acquires CommVault?

"You probably have more control over your roadmap when it's your own technology than being dependent on a partner," Whitehouse said.


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