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NetApp, HDS tout scaled-down disk arrays

New offerings are meant to take advantage of storage growth in the midmarket, but experts say the products will still probably appeal most to existing high-end users.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) made separate announcements today with a similar theme: new products aimed at midmarket users continuing to experience storage growth, now that high-end enterprise IT spending has slowed.

According to the latest IDC quarterly disk tracker study, sales of disk systems with a value of $300,000 and above stalled in the second calendar quarter, which backs up claims NetApp made last month to explain a $60 million revenue shortfall. The IDC numbers also show continued data growth at the lower end of the market, especially in the midrange where iSCSI sales were up 57% year over year.

According to executive vice president of product operations Tom Georgens, NetApp, with the release of its new FAS2000 series arrays, is making a conscious effort to expand its presence in the midmarket. "It's not like we haven't been selling midsize products at all, it just hasn't been a focus for us," Georgens said. NetApp is working on new incentives for its channel, including a bundled pricing program for software features.

The FAS2000 comes in two models: the 2020 and the 2050. The 2020, a 2U enclosure priced at around $12,000 with capacity up to 24 terabytes (TB), will only support SATA disks in its first release. The 2050, a 4U enclosure starting at around $25,000 with a maximum capacity of 69 TB, will support only SAS disks internally. The 2050 will also support Fibre Channel and SATA expansion shelves.

"Eventually we will support them intermixed," Georgens said. Issues with mixing SATA and SAS drives in the same enclosure have surfaced across the industry in the last year, issues NetApp also cites for the years between updates of its low-end product line.

Despite the new focus for NetApp, Dave Russell, vice president at Gartner Research, predicted that the majority of FAS2000 sales will come from its existing customer base. "NetApp's channel in this space is built to move boxes, rather than new capabilities, like a virtual tape library (VTL) or ReplicatorX. They're going to need a whole new incentive structure and maybe a whole new set of partners to really go after it."

The reactions of high-end and midmarket users to the product reveal differing views on certain features. One storage administrator for a large financial company interviewed by last month said high-end customers have been waiting for the performance boost and updated software features of the newer system for use in remote and branch offices. Meanwhile, a midmarket customer, John Saley, IT architect for environmental engineering firm RMT Inc., pointed out that the way NetApp has set up the remote management port on the box is less than ideal for his purposes. "We've configured our storage on an Ethernet VLAN, and traffic from the Web management port has to go through the same channel," which he dislikes for security reasons. But it's probably ideal for larger companies sending data over a WAN, he said.

On the other hand, Saley also said that NetApp beat out midmarket powerhouse EqualLogic Corp. for his business because he liked having network attached storage (NAS), Fibre Channel and iSCSI in one box, EqualLogic is iSCSI only and needs a gateway for NAS, and liked the broad range of arrays in different capacities he could get from NetApp for future expansion.

Russell added that a combination of the FAS2000 with NetApp's A-SIS data deduplication could also find a toehold as a nearline storage box. NetApp would have company there, too. Data Domain Inc. announced today that it has added snapshots and replication and retuned its product's performance to reposition it as nearline NAS storage.

HDS: 96 PB of midrange storage

HDS' new USP-VM is meant to be a mini version of the USP-V array announced in May. The USP-VM is based on rack-mounted hardware and standard 220-volt power supplies, while its big brother requires a raised data center floor and multiphase power. USP-VM supports up to 72 TB of capacity internally and, HDS claims, up to 96 petabytes (PB) of external virtualized storage, compared to the USP-V's capacity limits of 337 TB internal and 247 PB external. Performance-wise, HDS is claiming that the USP-VM is capable of 1.2 million I/O per second (IOPs) , as compared with the USP-V's 3.5 million IOPs. Software options for snapshots, replication, tiered storage, thin provisioning and storage virtualization are the same as on the high-end model.

While HDS isn't selling a "dumbed down" version of its product for the midmarket, other midmarket products from competitors have added simplified software management GUIs for lower end customers with less expertise. Also, according to Tony Asaro, senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), the price of around $60,000 for a controller without disk or software licenses places the product out of the reach of most midmarket companies.

"I get the sense HDS is going to be very negotiable on price with this," countered John Webster, principal IT advisor with Illuminata Inc, encouraging users to investigate possible pricing deals. "They really want to see the USP platform become the de facto standard for external virtualization in the industry." HDS has also simplified software licensing with the USP line, as compared to previous versions of its arrays.

HDS says it has customers in Europe and Asia that are smaller shops but still run mainframes, and that it will also market this product to new Web 2.0 companies that require asynchronous replication to push large files across the wire. No USP-VM customers were available for a press interview, according to company officials.

Another place where USP-VM could find a home, said Webster, is as the shared storage for virtualized servers, since virtualized storage can offer thin provisioning and easier migration of virtual machines. "There's kind of a race going on between IBM's SVC and HDS on who can get the most [business] out of latching onto the VMware trend."

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