When the word "storage" comes up, people tend to first think of their garage, attic or basement. But for many, those rooms aren't nearly enough and the resulting need for extra space has spawned a multibillion-dollar market for self storage. Companies are finding themselves in the same situation with data.
Whether it's the growing size of databases, new applications with high storage demands such as video, compliance requirements or business continuity demands, storage that is not only fast and efficient, but interoperable with the myriad of complementary systems on the network is essential.
Global technology and solution provider Dell Inc. has always worked to meet the evolving needs of its business customers.
In 2007, Dell anticipated the trend toward storage that is flexible enough to change with customer priorities, and it acquired EqualLogic, an emerging leader in storage area network solutions. Today, Dell provides easy-to-manage EqualLogic storage systems that leverage an existing Ethernet network to deliver data and applications to users.
Dell ensures its EqualLogic products are fully interoperable by testing its products in its own labs. Dell also supplements this with external testing to assure conformance to the industry's latest standards through membership in a variety of consortiums at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL), an independent, third-party testing laboratory.
The UNH-IOL's specialized testing groups, or consortiums, represent a collaboration of industry leaders in network equipment, test equipment and industry forums, as well as service providers. Membership allows companies like Dell and others from across the industry to test products for conformance to various standards as well as interoperability with other devices.
UNH-IOL's consortium members have access to a unique combination of expert engineers and the university's top engineering students. The arrangement provides member companies with thorough and efficient testing led by the professional staff and infused with the creative problem solving skills of undergraduates.
The collaborative model of the UNH-IOL helps members decrease research and development expenses and reduce time to market. For technology leaders like Dell, the lab's services and staff supplement in-house testing efforts and personnel.
"One of the main reasons we use testing at the UNH-IOL is that they do have a variety of equipment that we don't have and we don't have to buy," said Kirt Gillum, engineering manager at Dell. "Beyond the cost savings, there's the time savings that comes with not having to learn, configure and manage all of the equipment ourselves. The engineers and the enthusiastic students act as an extension of our staff and do an expert job of handling the on-site coordination, leaving us free to focus on our core engineering mission."
The Value of the Consortiums By employing Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI), which directs commands and traffic via existing Internet Protocol (IP) networks, EqualLogic storage solutions provide customers with an option that allows them to simplify network storage management.
The EqualLogic storage devices (called "arrays") can be shared by multiple servers, eliminating the need for each server to store its own data, dramatically reducing maintenance time and improving availability and performance.
In preparing future EqualLogic arrays for the market, Dell looked to supplement its own expertise and resources, with the UNH-IOL's iSCSI Consortium's. The company joined the consortium as a full member in 2009.
As Dell looks for ways to grow its line of storage products, the company also tests equipment within the labs' Data Center Bridging (DCB) and IPv6 consortiums.
While involvement in the DCB Consortium has helped Dell prepare their EqualLogic storage products for use in next-generation data center network environment, participation in the lab's IPv6 certification testing programs earned them the IPv6 Ready Logo. The designation, given by the IPv6 Forum, is recognized worldwide.
"With our memberships in the UNH-IOL consortiums, we can bring products to market faster," said Peter Thompson, director of storage networking at Dell. "There is no way to put a price on that. It's critical."Plugfests Offer Early Access to Evolving Technologies
Dell's participation in the lab's group test events allows them to begin testing EqualLogic arrays for interoperability early, and in realtime with other vendors in the storage networking market. These test events, or "plugfests," are dedicated to testing a particular technology in the initial stages of development.
When a particular standard is finally approved, participating companies have already had the chance to assess product performance, address any major issues and prepare the product for the market.
"By testing at the plugfests, we are able to take the lead in creating products using emerging technology as early as possible and ensure a high-level of confidence in our interoperability testing results," said Thompson. "In the long run, we save time and money by assessing our products against devices from other companies, and at the UNH-IOL, we can do that as soon as the standard is ready to be tested."
This access to the latest technology has been an invaluable benefit of Dell's relationship with the UNH-IOL. When EqualLogic products were in the beginning stages of development, the group test events provided the only opportunity to utilize specialized test equipment and evaluate product performance.
"Because the UNH-IOL is so ahead of the curve, we are able to identify ways to improve and adjust our product well ahead of schedule," said Gillum. "It's an absolute head start in the race to the marketplace."
A Proven Partnership
Buoyed by the UNH-IOL's deep knowledge of the technology central to its product, Dell's membership in the UNH-IOL's testing consortiums helps the company deliver its EqualLogic network storage to the market quickly while also reducing the cost of developing the product. Participation in the lab's plugfests and certification testing programs has brought the brand proven interoperability of its storage solutions.
"Our EqualLogic product is outstanding," said Thompson, who noted that revenue from sales of EqualLogic products has nearly tripled since 2008. "Working with the UNH-IOL to meet our interoperability and conformance testing needs has certainly helped us deliver a solution that our customers can rely on. Businesses of any size can grow and evolve and know that our EqualLogic storage product will grow with them."
For more information visit www.iol.unh.edu.