The best enterprise storage arrays of 2021

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The first three enterprise storage arrays in the Storage magazine and SearchStorage 2021 Products of the Year category disk and disk subsystems illustrate the growing presence of flash storage as organizations manage spikes in data growth.

Entries in the disks and disk subsystems category encompass a range of storage products, including those that use fixed disks, all-flash and hybrid media; multi-protocol and converged infrastructure systems; SSDs and HDDs; disk controllers; and the devices used to cache the data. To be considered, each vendor’s product must integrate software management with storage functionality built directly into the carrier.

The spinning disk remains prominent in the enterprise, but the current darling of the data center is flash storage. Flash adoption is no longer limited to large enterprises. Flexible flash configurations and expected price drops combine to make flash attractive to midsize businesses.

The rise of edge computing, coupled with intelligent data management, emerged as common themes among this year’s attendees. In a corresponding trend, enterprise buyers want AI-powered systems that automate storage management. These trends have been ongoing for several years, but have accelerated in 2021, spurred by the work-from-home phenomenon and the accompanying need for more robust data security.

Our 2021 Drives and Drive Subsystems category winners include a vendor that nearly went bankrupt and two recurring 2020 vendors that traded their respective podium positions.

Gold Winner: Tintri VMstore T7000 Series

Tintri Inc., a DataDirect Networks (DDN) company, won gold with its VMstore T7000 Series system. The NVMe-based array integrates virtualized Tintri storage with two other storage technologies acquired by DDN: Nexenta’s NexentaStor file system and IntelliFlash storage systems it acquired from Western Digital Corp. Tintri was able to design T7000 arrays on the DDN ExaScaler A3I chassis, which is designed to ingest large-scale deep learning data.

The arrays combine NVMe performance with self-management suitable for VMware administrators. The vendor claims that VMstore T7000 arrays improve performance by approximately 30% with consistent performance isolation and have less than 1 microsecond latency. Tintri said its artificial intelligence and machine learning automates around 95% of storage tasks.

Tintri VMstore T7000 series arrays combine NVMe performance with autonomous management suitable for VMware administrators.

Tintri VMstore T7000 won first place from our judges for its ease of use and comprehensive toolset. Although it was originally designed for virtual environments, the judges said that Tintri VMstore T7000 storage serves new dense workloads and traditional enterprise applications. Tight integration with VMware is a strong point, but one judge said the real innovation and value came from Tintri’s management autonomy. “This [makes it] an industry leader and highly innovative for a storage system,” Judge said.

Another judge agreed, describing Tintri’s VMstore T7000 as a glimpse into the future of IT administration. “Its unique use of built-in intelligence and automated workflows sets it apart from its competitors,” Judge said. “At the same time, the performance and features are compelling enough to be adopted by any business.”

Silver Winner: Infinidat InfiniBox SSA

Infinidat, last year’s bronze winner in this category, made a name for itself by selling the InfiniBox petabyte (PB) scale storage system designed with hard drives, along with a modest level of acceleration flash. The InfiniBox SSA introduces an all-flash model to the 10-year-old vendor’s lineup.

The original disk-based InfiniBox system configures hard drives on the back-end, serving all writes and most reads from the DRAM and NAND SSD layers. The InfiniBox SSA replaces hard drives with tri-level cell NAND SSDs for persistent storage and requires no secondary flash cache. Customers can manage both disk and flash InfiniBox models using the cloud-based InfiniVerse AIOps platform.

“Infinidat already had high-performance storage arrays and improved performance even further with its first all-flash device,” a judge said.

Infinidat InfiniBox SSA
The InfiniBox SSA replaces hard drives with tri-level cell NAND SSDs for persistent storage and requires no secondary flash cache.

Although it sells hardware-based arrays, Infinidat said the key to its high performance is its software, specifically its Neural Cache algorithm. Intelligent storage software analyzes access patterns in real time to predict which data sets users are likely to request.

“Infinidat found that DRAM over flash had some key advantages, especially at the higher end of workloads, and therefore [developed] the InfiniBox solid-state appliance. Storage screams [and comes] at a reasonable price,” noted a judge.

InfiniBox SSA is faster than most storage systems, another judge agreed, but the effective 1PB capacity probably won’t appeal to organizations with highly scalable storage. “It’s a solid, full-featured, enterprise-class storage system. However, it doesn’t scale very high, nor does it scale. This [classifies it as] rather a mid-tier system,” the judge said.

Bronze Winner: Dell EMC PowerStore 500 with PowerStoreOS 2.0

Midrange enterprise arrays are a growing market, and Dell EMC expects PowerStore systems to generate most of its new revenue.

PowerStore won silver in this category last year. The entry-level PowerStore 500 model and PowerStoreOS 2.0 software extend enterprise services across the entire product line. PowerStore arrays support NVMe over Fiber Channel and device clustering to improve performance. The AppsOn feature allows customers to migrate storage with VMware vMotion.

Combined with AI tuning and intelligent tiering, the latest version of PowerStoreOS is designed to achieve up to 25% more IOPS. PowerStore optimizes capacity and performance to simplify storage management, including guaranteed 4:1 data reduction.

Dell EMC PowerStore 500 with PowerStoreOS 2.0
Dell EMC PowerStore arrays support NVMe over Fiber Channel and appliance clustering to improve performance.

Dell has integrated Intel Optane storage class memory as a metadata tier to reduce workload latency by up to 15%.

A judge said the latest version of the software significantly improves performance and workload consolidation, especially for cloud-native businesses. “It extracts better performance [from the array] without changing the hardware. Self-tuning, smart tiering and AppsOn technology [help] reduce the complexity of storage management,” the judge said.

While noting the software improvements, our judges said some features were expected at the PowerStore product launch. The release provides a “much-needed upgrade”, a judge said. “There’s a lot to love here at [terms of] increased performance and automation upgrades.”

Learn more about earning Storage magazine and SearchStorage Products of the Year 2021 in all five categories.

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