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Dell EMC PowerMax – Product Brief

Last updated October 9th, 2020 to add cloud mobility feature. Concise 7-page overview of the Dell EMC PowerMax. Product Brief includes EvaluScale Reviewing Methodology. Download the free Product Brief now!


The Dell EMC PowerMax is the evolution of VMAX All Flash system with NVMe over Fabric and NVMe protocol for attached SSDs that is the flagship Dell EMC high-end enterprise storage system. The PowerMax system uses the embedded operating environment called PowerMax OS, InfiniBand for interconnect technology, ProtectPoint for direct backup of volumes, IBM mainframe and system-i support, protecting of snapshots to S3 target storage, and file access support with eNAS data services based on VNX NAS.

The Virtual Matrix architecture continues the evolution with the ability to dynamically allocate resources for workloads. Two models of the PowerMax system are available with differences in the number of engines, DRAM cache, connectivity, and capacity scaling. As with earlier versions, PowerMax supports IBM mainframe environments (the PowerMax 8000), open systems, and IBM System i.

The foundation of the PowerMax is the Dynamic Virtual Matrix Architecture utilizing the PowerMax Engine as the core element and optimizations that were made to adapt the existing design for flash. The PowerMax is sold in PowerMax Bricks (or zBricks in the case of mainframe attach), which combines a PowerMax engine with storage capacity. The engines are comprised of multi-core processors, cache, front-end and back-end connectivity allowing the Dynamic Virtual Matrix to scale from the entry-level configuration with one Brick to an aggregate up to eight Bricks in the largest model. Each Brick contains two directors, cross-director communication path linking them and redundant interfaces to the Dynamic Virtual Matrix Interconnect and SSD capacity. Each director consolidates front-end, global memory, and back-end functions, enabling direct memory access to data.

PowerMax OS, the embedded operating environment for PowerMax, is a storage hypervisor providing internal virtual machines for running functional elements such as block storage, management, data protection, and other future advanced capabilities such as advanced analysis to determine data placement on SSDs or SCM.

PowerMax enables direct backup of data with the optional software feature ProtectPoint. With ProtectPoint, agents on application servers allow application administrators to direct the PowerMax system to backup volumes directly to a PowerProtect DD system. The PowerMax uses changed block tracking to send only changed blocks (from the last full backup) to the Data Domain system. The Data Domain system will create a full backup from the changed data. Application administrators can direct the PowerMax to restore a volume or a specific object in a volume and PowerMax will communicate directly with the PowerProtect DD system to perform the restore.

A hypervisor is included with the PowerMax OS to allow data services functions to execute internal to PowerMax. File access support is a data service that is adapted from the VNX file access support where data movers and control stations can execute as containers in virtual machines.

Cloud Mobility is a software feature that runs as a VM on the PowerMax hypervisor and protects data by copying snapshot over Ethernet to S3 storage. Dell EMC ECS is supported for on premises object storage. Amazon AWS and Azure as supported for public clouds.

Inline hardware data compression and deduplication is supported in addition to compaction called data packing. The data reduction is selectively enabled at the group level and automatically targets less active data. Highly active data will not be compressed to reduce overhead for accesses.


Mainframe, open systems, and System i environments that require high performance, high availability, advanced feature sets, and the ability to scale as capacity and performance needs grow are the most likely candidates for the Dell EMC PowerMax. As enterprises transition primary storage to all solid state systems, the Dell EMC PowerMax provides the enterprise features compatible with earlier VMAX systems with the high performance and growing economic value of flash. The system will be in use across a broad range of host systems in demanding environments such as OLTP, decision support, and highly available operations.

  • Characteristics
    • Performance – The PowerMax family is the flagship system from Dell EMC and the highest performance system. Dell EMC will quote their own performance test data, which is 15M IOPs at less than 100 microseconds response time with 450 GB/s aggregate bandwidth (Dell EMC PowerMax: Family Overview, November 2019).
    • Availability – The PowerMax has built in redundancies, multi-node/director support, and replication capabilities for the highest-level availability requirements from a storage system.
    • Replication for BC/DR – Both asynchronous and synchronous remote replication is available with SRDF, and SnapVX software. SRDF/Metro offers business continuity with active-active stretched clusters.
    • Protection – ProtectPoint software enables direct backup of volumes from PowerMax to Data Domain systems.
  • Applications
    • The Dell EMC PowerMax is a block storage system for multiple system environments with performance demanding applications such as OLTP and decision support. File based access is available with the eNAS feature.
    • Typical usage for PowerMax is in a Storage Area Network with multiple physical servers attached. With the integral VMware support for VAAI, VASA 2.0, VVOLs, SRM, and vCenter plug-ins, the PowerMax is a high performance consolidation platform for VMware virtual machine data stores.
  • System environments
    • The PowerMax is a block storage system accessed using NVMe over Fibre Channel and Ethernet, FICON, FC, and iSCSI with standard drivers on host systems. There is a wide range of OS support.
    • File access as a NAS system is supported with access over Ethernet using the eNAS feature.
  • Deployment and Administration
    • Dell EMC service personnel will do installation because of the number of different configuration options. The PowerMax can be a complex system based on the configuration and features available. Simplifications have been made to automate much of the process for quick setup.
    • A customer will use the embedded Unisphere in PowerMax software for managing the system. In addition, Unisphere 360 software is available to aggregate management of up to 200 systems. There is a wide range of monitoring and management software available.
    • CloudIQ for monitoring and storage analytics.

Evaluator Group EvaluScale: Dell EMC PowerMax – SAN Storage

Evaluator Group product review methodology “EvaluScale” assesses each product within a specific technology area.  The definitions of the criteria and explanations of how products are reviewed can be found in the  Evaluator Series Evaluation Guide. Download the product brief now to view the Evaluscale for this product.

Evaluator Group Opinion: Differentiating elements for Dell EMC PowerMax

Dell EMC PowerMax is an end-to-end NVMe all flash system that is a logical evolution from the popular VMAX family with optimized configurations. PowerMax is primarily a high-end block storage system for mainframe and open systems, with the PowerMax 8000 model supporting mainframe access. NAS capability has been added by running the VNX NAS software internal as virtual machines running in the PowerMax OS hypervisor. Evaluator Group believes that customers in the high-end enterprise will rarely combine block and file in the same system so, while the PowerMax makes this available, it will not be a major requirement or a deciding factor.

As a system that has evolved over time, the PowerMax and the earlier VMAX family have a large suite of features and demonstrated reliability and availability. It truly is a high-end enterprise system with all the capabilities that entails. As would be expected with a system with so many capabilities, there is a lot to consider in configuring and managing. Many of these options are exposed for potential changes, which leads to the perception of complexity. Over time, the system has improved considerably in the management area. Configuration in the factory has allowed the setup to be completed quickly.

There are few choices in the high-end enterprise space and even fewer that have both mainframe and open system support. The PowerMax and the earlier VMAX family have been very successful and will continue to be. Dell EMC continues with enhancements and technology updates so the product will be expected to continue in the market.

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