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IBM back in iSCSI SAN fray

IBM is looking to take on HP's MSA and EMC's AX150, as well as EqualLogic and LeftHand, with a new iSCSI SAN product OEMed from LSI.

IBM has announced today that several new storage products, one of which comes with iSCSI connectivity, targeting the low-end market. The new iSCSI product will ship on Sept. 7, about nine months after IBM ended its previous OEM relationship with iSCSI SAN supplier Adaptec Inc., creating a gap in its portfolio that lasted until this announcement.

The new iSCSI product is called the DS3300 and is based on the LSI 1532 array, which is similar to the 1333, at the core of IBM's existing DS3200 serial attached SCSI (SAS) direct-attached storage (DAS) offering. The new DS3300, however, functions as networked storage and has both iSCSI and SAS connections.

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A single controller for the DS3300 costs $5,000, but does not come with disk. IBM says it will slash pricing for SAS disks to add to the system, according to Harold Pike, entry and midrange disk product marketing manager for IBM. A terabyte (TB) of capacity will cost around $2,500 for four 300 GB SAS disks, said Pike. The DS3300 is meant to compete in a "price band" against products like HP's MSA arrays, EMC's AX150 and offerings from EqualLogic Corp. and LeftHand Networks Inc., according to Pike.

Unlike some of its low-end iSCSI competitors, the DS3300 also does not bundle in software, other than LSI's Simplicity management console. IBM's FlashCopy and VolumeCopy snapshot software can be added on with separate licenses. All told, according to Pike, a typical configuration will come to about $15,000.

The box also differs from low-end offerings like HP's All-in-One or Dell's NX1950 in that it does not offer NAS or multiprotocol access. IBM has a product called the System x 3650 T, which, like the AiO and NX1950, is based on Windows storage software for NAS support, and is typically bundled with System x servers. IBM also resells almost all of Network Appliance Inc.'s product line for NAS, but does not offer any NetApp product in the low-end market.

"I contend that none of those low-end boxes have the bandwidth to support both protocols at the same time," Pike said. "I can't say anything about low-end NAS at this point," he added

Third time the charm?

This is IBM's third crack at an iSCSI product; six years ago it marketed the TotalStorage 200i Controller, but quickly found the market was not ready. In September 2004, IBM rolled out the DS300 and DS400 products, based on Adaptec hardware. In January, IBM announced a new deal for low-end storage with LSI Corp. that included SAS and Fibre Channel arrays, but not iSCSI. At that time, IBM confirmed that the LSI agreement bumped Adaptec and that the DS300 and DS400 had been discontinued, though it still supports the products for existing users. Pike said the decision to go with LSI stemmed in part from the fact that its DS3000 and DS4000 storage products, all manufactured by LSI, can now share code and management interfaces.

"Is IBM late? I would say no," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group. "They've had the iSCSI capability all along, with what you could call false starts -- or you could say that the market wasn't really ready."

Despite all the hype over the last several years, in fact, many industry experts now agree that it's only been this year that iSCSI has started to show any real market penetration. "Competitors who are worried about IBM will say they're late to market," Schulz said. "But I would say they're [now] right on time."

At least one IBM value-added reseller (VAR) says there is "some pent-up demand" for the product among his customer base. "Especially at the low end of the market, users are slower to adapt to new technologies," according to Sean Hobday, executive VP of sales for Zones Inc., which focuses on the SMB and midmarket. Hobday said the product will probably see the most sales based on attachment to IBM servers. He added that NAS capabilities "are going to be important going forward" at this level of the market.

Other low-end product announcements

IBM is also announcing two new Express bundles (one single and one dual-controller) for its DS3400 product, which now includes cabling, a switch from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and an HBA from Emulex Corp.; previously the pieces had to be bought separately. The new bundles will also include Emulex's EzPilot software, a wizard that installs and deploys HBAs, switches and storage arrays. Emulex's software and HBAs, as well as Brocade switches, also comprise a similar bundle from HP called the EVA4100 SAN Starter Kit. IBM's single controller kit starts at around $9,900; the dual controller bundle is priced at around $13,800. There will also be Express bundles for the DS3300, also in single- and dual-controller configurations, which will include a QLogic iSCSI HBA. The single-controller DS3300 Express is priced at $4,545, and the dual-controller model at $7,045.

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