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IBM gets back to iSCSI with entry-level server

With midsized businesses on its mind, Big Blue debuts low-priced servers that support both iSCSI and Fibre Channel.

IBM jumped into the midmarket ring with Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. on Friday by introducing a pair of entry-level storage servers: the TotalStorage DS300 for iSCSI and the DS400 for Fibre Channel (FC).

The DS300 and DS400 are part of the company's TotalStorage DS family. Both storage servers are managed through IBM's ServerRAID management tools, and when coupled with the company's eServer xSeries and BladeCenter rackable systems, will allow users to manage databases, e-mail and Web serving.

Because it supports iSCSI, the DS300 is the more noteworthy of the two. IBM has not had an iSCSI box of its own since the company pulled its 200i iSCSI system from the market in 2003 -- a time when interest in iSCSI was still maturing. The DS400, on the other hand, is a 2 GB FC storage system in a 3U form factor that can scale to 5.8 TB.

But the DS300 is the real star here -- and mostly because of the growing popularity of iSCSI technology itself. Predicted to be a $2.7 billion market by 2008, iSCSI has been widely adopted over the past year by midsized businesses as a flexible and affordable way to connect their storage using a standard Ethernet connection. Too early to market with the 200i iSCSI system two years ago, IBM is getting back in the iSCSI game now that interest is peaking.

"We're the first tier one vendor with a system that has an iSCSI interface," said Rich Lechner, vice president of IBM storage systems. "And both the DS systems cost 25% less than EMC/Dell and 50% less than HP."

For IBM, the timing is right. This week, Gartner Inc. released its Storage Forecast Analysis for the third quarter of 2004 with the recommendation that "vendors accelerate the introduction of external controller-based disk storage systems that support low-cost FC switches and host bus adapters (HBAs) as well as iSCSI to bring the benefits of SANs to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)."

The introduction of the DS300 and the DS400 will put IBM in direct competition with the Dell/EMC AX100 and the HP MSA arrays -- both considered affordable products for SMBs looking to move away from direct-attached to networked storage.

For Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., the success of the DS systems and their competition hedges on ease of integration and, of course, price. "These are not standalone products and shouldn't be sold based on bells and whistles. What's important is ease of deployment, setup and pricing," Villars said.

The competition for the attention of SMBs will be heated, said Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Security Group (ESG), Milford, Mass. He cited a recent ESG survey of 200 SMBs that were evaluating SAN-based storage, and placed Dell as the No. 1 vendor and IBM at No. 2.

And what about iSCSI startups like EqualLogic Inc. and Intransa Inc.? Are they at all a threat to the DS300? "Because of its market reach, IBM shouldn't worry about iSCSI startups. The startups need to worry about IBM," Asaro said.

The DS300 is fitted with Ultra320 SCSI drives, battery backup cache and redundant, hot-swappable power supplies, which means users can add new power supplies without taking down that server.

The IBM TotalStorage DS300 and DS400 run on Windows and Linux. Prices range between $4,000 and $10,000, depending on whether you buy the single- or dual-controller model. The single-controller models of the DS300 and DS400 are scheduled to begin shipping on September 24 and the dual-controller models on December 17.

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