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Dell EMC SC5020F Review

Dell EMC’s latest SC storage arrays take spinning disks out of the equation as they are designed purely for all-Flash applications. Targeting mid-sized businesses looking for a high-performance all-Flash solution at a more palatable price, the SC5020F and SC7020F models deliver a wealth of new features along with updated hardware platforms.

Value gets a boost as Dell EMC includes all advanced storage features as standard rather than as optional, chargeable extras. This sweetens the deal even more as the perpetual license includes everything Dell EMC has to offer such as intelligent deduplication and compression, live migrate federation, live volume auto-failover, data progression, thin snapshots and clones plus the latest Unisphere for SC, Unisphere Central and CloudIQ management and monitoring tools.

Both array models use 3U chassis with dual active/active hot-plug controllers. On review, we have the SC5020F where both controllers are powered by 8-core 2.4GHz Xeon E5-2630 v3 CPUs teamed up with 64GB of DDR4 cache memory. The higher-end SC7020F uses 2.5GHz Xeon E5-2628 v3 CPUs and has 128GB of cache per controller

The SC5020F supports thirty internal SFF SSDs and is licensed for the full array capacity so there are more savings to be had. There’s room to grow massively outside the box as support for multiple SC420F 24-bay SAS3 expansion shelves allows the SSD count to be pushed to 222 per array and beyond when it’s part of a federated array.

SCOS 7.3

The on-board UniSphere for SC web server provides plenty of all-Flash array information

Dell EMC partners the launch of the SC5020F with the release of its new SCOS 7.3 software. Available as a free upgrade to existing SC customers, this offers enhanced performance plus support for greater storage capacities and introduces the new UniSphere management team.

New features include distributed sparing which aims to stop space wastage on high-capacity (and expensive) SSDs. SCOS manages RAID arrays at the page level so it can pinch capacity from SSDs already in use and create a reserved rebuild area with Dell EMC claiming up to a five-fold reduction in array rebuild times.

Volumes can be replicated between SC arrays using the Live Volume feature and SCOS 7.3 boosts support to 500. Seamless failover between arrays is assured as Live Volumes now use the same ID and MPIO connections can employ ALUA (asymmetric logical unit access) to create optimal and failover paths for each one.

Standard storage features include support for two tiers of read- and write-intensive SSDs where SCOS uses profiles to manage data progression with its scheduler running tasks as often as every five minutes. RAID array creation for each tier is fully automated and physical storage is presented as a Disk Folder pool within which virtual volumes are created and mapped to selected data ports.

Deduplication and compression are also controlled with profiles and these can be enabled on selected volumes or globally on the entire array. Available bandwidth for selected volumes can be precisely controlled using quality of service (QoS) profiles which applies limits in IOPS and MB/sec.

Test setup and performance

The standard DSM application is used to create Live Volumes

The review system was provided with 30 1.92TB read-intensive SAS3 SSDs spread equally across the head unit and one SC420F expansion shelf. The SC5020F also supports write-intensive SSDs but Dell EMC advised us that it anticipates most customers will use it for read-intensive workloads.

For performance testing, we used dual Xeon Scalable rack servers running VMware ESX 6.5 and configured as a cluster. We created eight Linux CentOS VMs and connected the cluster to the SC5020F via sixteen 16Gbps FC ports.

With 32 all-Flash volumes on the SC5020F, we assigned four to each Linux VM and used the Iometer load generator to test throughput. Read performance is impressive as with Iometer configured with 512KB block sizes, we recorded a raw sequential read rate of 13,000MB/sec which increased slightly to 13,175MB/sec for random reads.

To test IOPS, we swapped to 4KB block sizes and watched Iometer report a high random read throughput of 410,000 IOPS. Lastly, we configured Iometer with a 80/20 random read/write distribution using 4KB blocks which returned 280,000 IOPS.

Enhanced management

The UniSphere Central for SC app manages multiple SC arrays from one console

With SCOS 7.3 on-board, the SC5020F controllers both run the new Unisphere for SC web server which provides a slick HTML5 web browser interface for local storage management. It provides easy access to the majority of storage configuration tasks while its monitoring page provides a complete graphical readout of performance for all controllers, volumes, tiers, host ports and profiles.

The Dell Storage Manager (DSM) client app gets a refresh to 2018 R1 and you’ll need to install it as only this app can configure the Live Migrate and Live Volume functions.

Multiple arrays can now be managed from one console using the new Unisphere Central for SC. This requires a VMware host (Hyper-V as well, please) and presents an equally well-designed web console offering easy access to arrays and a central dashboard with a detailed status overview for all of them.

Next up is Dell EMC’s CloudIQ cloud-based app and this is free as well. Using support call-home data from all arrays, it creates a complete health status view, provides alerts when service actions need to be carried out and uses predictive analytics to warn you when storage resources will be impacted.

Conclusion

Along with easy deployment and great performance, the SC5020F is top value. The price of our review system may seem high but bear in mind this includes 30 1.92TB read-intensive SSDs, the 16Gbps FC host port cards, an SC420F expansion shelf and every available storage feature enabled with a perpetual license.

Even more compelling is Dell EMC’s future-proof storage loyalty program. Along with the all-inclusive software offer, this includes a 4:1 storage efficiency guarantee and a three-year satisfaction guarantee allowing mid-sized business to maximise their all-Flash storage investment.

9.3 Total Score

Along with easy deployment and great performance, the SC5020F is top value. The price of our review system may seem high but bear in mind this includes 30 1.92TB read-intensive SSDs, the 16Gbps FC host port cards, an SC420F expansion shelf and every available storage feature enabled with a perpetual license.

Performance
9.5
Features
10
Build quality
9.5
Usability
8.5
Value
9
PROS
  • Top value
  • Satisfaction guaranteed
  • All-inclusive software license
  • High IOPS read performance
  • Massive expansion potential
  • Free cloud and on-premises management tools
CONS
  • Nothing of note
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