Dell FluidFS 4 and Dell Compellent FS8600

Dell FluidFS is a scalable NAS software storage solution sold as an independent front end to Dell’s storage offerings (Compellent and EqualLogic). FluidFS provides file-level access to Dell Compellent and EqualLogic traditional block-based arrays, using protocols like SMB and NFS. FluidFS is also where Dell has chosen to implement technologies like deduplication and compression (which it calls “Fluid Data Reduction”), as well as more complicated security protocols and models.

Dell Compellent FS8600
Dell Compellent FS8600

Clearly, FluidFS and the arrays are not completely separate, however. Dell sells FluidFS on the FS8600 for Compellent and the FS7600 and FS7610 for EqualLogic, having tuned and qualified each implementation of FluidFS for the underlying storage technology. Product qualifications also occur, so a new software release for Compellent is guaranteed to work with FluidFS and vice versa. There is also licensing—depending on how you purchased the products and what your capacity is, there may be additional licensing fees for additional capacity.

Decoupling the advanced features from the block storage array allows Dell to develop and release them independently. This became evident as Dell began shipping a new major release of the FluidFS software, version 4, as well as an incremental revision to the FS8600 hardware. FluidFS 4 gives customers the ability to address 3.2 petabytes (PB) of storage in a single implementation, up from 2 PB in version 3. Similarly, the maximum file size is now 16 TB, quadrupled from 4 TB in version 3. On the protocol side, it now has SMB 3, NFS 4 and 4.1, and IPv6 networking. IPv6 will help it sell into government and education markets that require IPv6 compatibility and will further reduce obstacles for private organizations to move past the limits of IPv4.

Without elaborating too much, Dell says that it has added tighter integration with VMware environments. That’s likely a combination of things, including certifications with the recently released VMware vSphere 6, better compatibility with the NFS protocols VMware ESXi can use (NFS 4.1, for example), and tighter integration with the software-defined aspects of storage, like VASA providers, through the Compellent Enterprise Manager. Dell also says that FluidFS 4 is a better file server than ever before, with directory-level quotas, auditing capabilities based on Microsoft Windows system access control lists (SACLs), and improvements to file filtering. It has also made updates and improvements to replication options and has added connectivity with NDMP-based tools such as backup and virus scanners.

A Compellent SC8000 fronted by FS8600s can now do 494,000 SPECsfs IOPS and have 11.9 GB/sec throughput. This is due to the doubling of system memory in the FS8600 hardware, now 48 GB per controller, as well as to a likely revision of CPU capacity underneath. After all, these FC8600s are really just Dell PowerEdge R7x0 servers, and the twelfth-generation R720s were just retired from sales in favor of the R730s. Another thing that has caught my eye is the units in performance measurements. 11.9 GB/sec is gigabytes per second, not Gbps, which is gigabits per second. Since a byte is 8 bits, that’s 95.2 Gbps, which implies additional I/O connectivity options for both the Compellent arrays and the clients. This is expected and welcomed, as Dell sells many of these solutions into media and surveillance markets, which need immense throughput but few actual IOPS. These improvements mesh well with the announced file size and capacity improvements.

Updates to FluidFS 4 software are now available for Compellent customers. Dell hasn’t said publicly if older revisions of the FS8600 can be improved in place or require a replacement to gain the I/O and caching improvements, so it’s worth checking on if you’re already a customer. An EqualLogic version of FluidFS 4 will be available later in the year.

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