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EMC takes another stab at SMB NAS with low-end Celerra

EMC adds a low-end model to its Celerra NAS line with SAS support, but analysts say the company still faces challenges to break into SMB channels.

EMC Corp. today launched the NX4, based on the Clariion AX4 array EMC brought out in January. The NX4 is the smallest model of the Celerra line, scaling from 4 TB to 32 TB with a single network attached storage (NAS) head and 60 TB with two heads. The previously smallest Celerra, the NS20, has been bumped from a maximum of 32 TB to a range of 60 TB to 90 TB.

While the NS20 supported only Fibre Channel or ATA drives, the NX4 can support SAS and SATA, and mix SAS and SATA drives on the same shelf – the same as the AX4. The NX4 also supports CIFS and NFS for files along with iSCSI for block storage.

Analysts pointed out that the NX4 is most likely to find its niche in a remote office scenario because it offers high-availability features, such a primary-standby configuration. "It has enterprise-class features that will make it appealing to EMC's existing customers for remote and branch offices," said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT.

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Jeff Janover, director of technology for Wall Township Public Schools in New Jersey, is one of those customers. The NX4 would be an improvement over aging arrays in remote offices, due to its native NAS and multiprotocol targets, said Janover. Wall Township's school district uses AX100s directly attached to a Windows file server for NAS access.

"If this kind of configuration had been available prior to our AX install, we would have gone for this instead," he said. "We need NAS more than all the functionality of a full SAN."

Gunning for NetApp in the SMB market

Finding new standalone small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers for the Celerra line outside of EMC's existing base, however, might be another story. EMC's NS series has competed mostly against the larger of NetApp's two FAS2000 models, the FAS2050, as well as the FAS2000 versions rebranded by IBM, said Brad Bunce, director of Celerra product marketing.

But "the FAS2020 starts at a much smaller storage configuration than the NS20," Bunce said. The NX4's starting list price of $20,375 for 4 TB of SATA disk and one X-blade NAS head is down from $32,000 for the NS20 starting price, but still well above the FAS2020's entry price of $9,900 for 3 TB.

The NX4 does have some higher end features than its SMB competitors, though. Along with high-availability capability, the NX4 allows customers to intermix SAS and SATA drives within the same drive shelf. NetApp's FAS2000 series supports intermixing of drive types within the same enclosure, but not the same drive shelf. "It's important for a small company or branch office that might be starting with a single shelf to still be able to do tiered storage," King said.

The NX4 and FAS2000 include snapshot and thin provisioning at no extra charge and allow for remote management via a GUI or command line interface. The NX4 also includes automated volume management and monitoring software for free. EMC still requires different replication tools to manage Fibre Channel SAN and IP storage, and replication is a separate license for both the NX4 and FAS2020.

As with the NS20, EMC touts the NX4 as a "channel friendly" product and is rolling out an express configuration program for channel partners, which gives them predesigned configurations for entry-level, medium-sized and large environments.

But Gartner analyst Pushan Rinnen said there are no guarantees that this attempt at cracking the SMB channel will be more successful. "Both NetApp and EMC still face the challenge of penetrating SMBs," she said.

EMC storage partner Dell will also sell the NX4.

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