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Cheap SANs--Hype or Hot?

Low-cost SANs still looking for a market

Storage vendors have made a lot of noise about cheap storage area networks (SANs) for the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) but, so far, "it's not going gangbusters," says Steve Vonderhaar, vice president of enterprise storage marketing at AMCC, which has been watching the space with respect to the host bus adapter (HBA) business it acquired last year from JNI.

"It's been a mixed bag," concedes Frank Berry, vice president of marketing at QLogic, whose QLA200 HBA is sold by Dell for $369 with the AX100. "Interest levels have been super, super, super high," he says, but so far, "the uptake has gone to the same companies that are buying SANs today"-- in other words, large enterprises.

It's still early in the game, though, and "a lot of the other building blocks for the SMB space are still moving into place," Berry says. One of those building blocks is more tightly integrated software. "An SMB wants to be able to click 'Next,' 'Next,' 'Next.'" Also at issue is the channel. "There are many VARs out there that don't want to sell an SMB SAN" because the margins are too low. "There's a class of VARs out there we have to recruit in order to move volumes," Berry adds.

Also hampering the low-end SAN space may be the relative dearth of cheap HBAs. Given the new class of SAN boxes, the economics of a $1,000+ Fibre Channel HBA don't make sense, says Steve Looby, product manager for Fibre Channel adapters at LSI Logic. "For the privilege of connecting a few servers, you end up paying as much for the HBAs as you did for the RAID box."

Emulex's LP101 and QLogic's QLA200, both single-channel 2Gb PCI-Xmodels, retail for less than $400, but so far are only certified for EMC's AX100. Both vendors claim more qualifications are on the way. Apple resells LSI's dual-channel PCI-X card with cables for $499, but the single-channel LSI7102XP still retails for about $800 through distributors.

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