High-End Storage Heads For SMBs

On the heels of its new storage offering for the small-office/home-office (SOHO) market, EMC is rolling out a new system for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs). It’s an indicator of how the vendor views the two work environments as unique niches.

The CLARiiON AX4 is EMC’s third SMB system (following the AX100 and AX150), which it describes as the “most flexible and easy to set up and use.” The CLARiiON lines have been among EMC’s fast-selling midrange storage systems and software. In 2006, it positioned the line for high-end customers, with success that translated into double-digit sales growth that year.

The latest release is an attempt to carve out some new market territory by offering cutting edge network-attached storage systems to smaller customers using older back-up systems. EMC didn’t scrimp on that offering.

The AX4 can scale to 60 terabytes of capacity and supports storage network connectivity using IP-standard Internet SCSI (iSCSI) or Fibre Channel SAN connectivity. It can be configured with up to 60 SAS and SATA disk drives in order to suit the storage interfaces of its customers. EMC said it designed the system to integrate with and extend key VMware Infrastructure capabilities, many of which require shared storage.

It also features EMC’s Virtual LUN technology, which can be used with VMware Storage VMotion, a product introduced with the recent major upgrade to VMware Infrastructure that enables live migration of virtual machine disk files across storage arrays.

EMC is touting the combination of VMWare and iSCSI functionality in order to help make network attached storage a reality for smaller businesses.

“Companies can leverage IP skills and don’t need a storage admin to build NAS,” Barry Ader, EMC’s senior director of storage product marketing, told InternetNews.com. Plus, the products arrive at a time when SMBs are studying the cost-saving benefits of virtualization in their data environments, such as consolidating servers.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, noted in EMC’s material that companies, “especially SMBs, are constantly looking for ways to simplify their IT environments and get the most value from their storage investments.” That’s why iSCSI is becoming so popular and is especially important in VMware environments where new virtual servers require consolidated storage, he added. Plus, the device is ideal for SMB’s virtualized environments since it includes key features that make it easy for businesses with few or no dedicated IT resources to set up, manage and allocate networked storage.

It does come at a price, however. The system starts at $8,599 for a 3-terabyte configuration and includes management software and other built-in software capabilities. Dell and other EMC channel partners, including CDW, Ingram Micro and Arrow are selling the system as well, and NEC is pushing the AX4 line under its brand.

Although EMC tends to view the Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) market separate from the SMBs, the two have more in common when it comes to grappling with data storage issues. Both are concerned with costs, data protection and usability. And as with any enterprise, both are dealing with what research firm IDC calls “accelerated growth” in storage-capacity requirements — about 60 percent annually.

The AX4 is built using the same architecture of larger CLARiiON CX3 midrange storage arrays and features a mirrored cache design, built-in standby power supply, continuous disk-consistency checking and hot-swappable components.

Although he declined to talk about upcoming SMB-focused products, EMC’s Ader did make it clear that the AX4 likely won’t be the last EMC product for the marketplace.

“Customer requirements change over time, and there will be new demands from the SMB customer — so there will be next-generation technologies,” he said.

Clearly EMC isn’t the only vendor recognizing what potential SMB customers want when it comes to storage tools. Dell recently released the AX4-5, an entry-level SAN that the vendor says also meets the growing storage needs of SMBs.

The Dell AX4-5 array can expand up to 60 drives and will support up to 60TB of data. It can be configured for Fibre Channel or iSCSI networks and supports mixed drive configurations to suit SAS drives for high performance and SATA drives for capacity. Dell, in a statement, called it the latest step in its partnership with EMC.

The products join other SMB offerings already in the marketplace, such as HP’s All-in-One, Network Appliance’s StoreVault and Hitachi Data Systems’ Simple Modular Storage 100.

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