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EMC overshoots SMBs again

If EMC set out to improve its Clariion AX150, then it succeeded with the AX4 it launched today. But if it wants to offer a system optimized for SMBs, then it still has some work to do.

The AX4 follows the blueprint that storage companies used when they first started going after SMBs a few years back. They took their larger SAN systems and scaled them down in size and features. That didn’t work, and none of the large SAN vendors has made much of a dent on the vast SMB market. EMC and its partner Dell are now in their third generation of AX systems without much to show.

Meanwhile, EMC’s competitors Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance, Hitachi Data Systems, and even Dell with its PowerVault MD3000 have delivered storage systems designed from the ground up for SMBs. And they cost less than the $8,000-plus price tag EMC puts on the AX4.

EMC counters that it delivers more capacity and technology for the money with the AX4. But SMBs want simplicity; do they really care about a Fibre Channel option or SAS/SATA intermix? Those features are aimed at EMC customers who want a storage system for a department or remote office that is compatible to their larger Clariions, not SMBs looking to network their storage for the first time.

Dell is more realistic with its positioning of the new system, which it calls the AX4-5. Dell product manager Eric Cannell says the PowerVault MD3000 is for small businesses and the AX4-5 for largers SMBs and “can scale up to the bottom of what you would consider a midrange array.” Dell also prices the system at $13,858 and up, clearly not a true SMB price point.

But the new system puts Dell in a sticky situation with its EqualLogic acquisition. Cannell declined to talk about where all Dell’s iSCSI products fit until the EqualLogic deal closes, but customers are likely confused. If the AX4-5 is so good, why did Dell spent $1.4 billion on EqualLogic?

In the long run, Dell has more at stake than EMC. When you sell the most systems with six-figure and even seven-figure price tags as EMC does, it doesn’t hurt much to lose out on $8,000 deals. But SMBs are Dell’s main line of business, and it’s crucial for Dell to get it right.

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