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LeftHand adds hardware to iSCSI SANs

LeftHand makes its iSCSI SAN software available on two prepackaged appliances; sources indicate the hardware comes from Dell.

LeftHand Networks Inc. will now ship its SANiQ software prepackaged on two new hardware appliances, marking a shift in strategy for the iSCSN storage area network (SAN) vendor.

LeftHand did sell one prepackaged hardware node in the past, the Networked Storage Module (NSM) 160 based on whitebox hardware from Xyratex. But the majority of its deals have been for SANs that are a meet-in-the-channel combination of LeftHand's software and IBM or Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) servers.

The new NSM2060, a 2U box that can hold up to six 3.5-inch drives, either 300 GB 15K SAS drives, 500 GB SATA or 750 GB SATA, for a total maximum capacity per node of 4.5 TB. The new NSM4150 is a 4U server/disk appliance that holds up to 15 drives in a single enclosure and also supports either 300 GB SAS, 500 GB SATA or 750 GB SATA for a total maximum capacity per node of 11.25 TB.

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"This move by LeftHand reflects an interesting trend," said IDC research director Rick Villars. In the past, being tied to hardware would have threatened its success in the channel, where legacy vendors were giving VARs incentives to push their hardware. It also was an important differentiator for a new product against the hardware-dependent products of its legacy competitors. "But now, iSCSI has found an important niche in association with VMware, and being hardware-agnostic is not as important. In fact, having a hardware portfolio becomes more desirable," Villars said.

Lefthand users said they welcome the new development. "I'm in the business of delivering storage to my clients, not manufacturing," said Bob Lamb, general manager of hosting services for Strategic Business Solutions Inc., a managed service provider. Lamb said he's used the NSM160 for remote office data protection and off-site backup for clients. "It's nice to have one place to go for support."

Mystery partner: Dell?

LeftHand won't say who its hardware partner is for its new systems. However, industry sources said that the new nodes are actually based on products from Dell Inc. Several sources said LeftHand's boxes come directly from Dell, although one analyst said the two companies use the same hardware source and are not partnering on the systems. Like LeftHand, Dell isn't saying either. Dell representatives did not return requests for comment.

The products clearly bear a striking physical resemblance. Like the NSM2060, the Dell PowerEdge 2950 server supports up to six disk drives, including SAS, 500 GB and 750 GB SATA drives, though the 2950 also supports 2.5-inch SAS drives and other capacities in SATA. The maximum capacity possible in one enclosure with 750 GB SATA drives is 4.5 TB.

Sources said the NSM4150 is a combination of two Dell products, the 1U PowerEdge 1950 server and the 3U MD3000 disk expansion enclosure, comprising the 4U form factor of the NSM4150. The specifications on a single MD3000 enclosure also match up with the NSM4150, including the type of drives supported. Both the MD3000 and the storage component of the NSM4150 hold up to fifteen 3.5-inch disk drives.

A partnership would put both companies in an awkward position after Dell's $1.4 billion acquisition of LeftHand competitor EqualLogic Corp. this week, because it would mean LeftHand will be competing with a partner in the iSCSI market. Then again, HP and IBM also sell iSCSI systems in addition to those with SANiQ.

Marc Staimer, founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting, predicted the EqualLogic acquisition could actually present a golden opportunity for LeftHand. "The disruption of the acquisition gives other channel-focused vendors a chance to take market share from EqualLogic," he said. "This could affect LeftHand very positively."

If it does prove a positive for LeftHand, it could be the push the company needs to become a public company next year. LeftHand has hinted about taking the plunge in late 2007 or early 2008, and many industry insiders expect it to be the next storage vendor to file for an initial public offering (IPO) – if it doesn't get acquired first as EqualLogic did.

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