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STec launches flash array for Windows Storage Server 2012

Solid-state-drive vendor sTec enters the flash array market with a Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2012 box for high-performance workloads.

Solid-state drive vendor sTec today rolled out its first flash array, the s3000 based on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2012, Intel servers and sTec's SAS multi-level cell SSDs.

The s3000 array is part of sTec's go-to-market strategy shift from OEM supplier for major storage vendors to a direct and channel sales model. Executives from sTec say they will add other flash arrays tailored to specific applications.

The s3000 is available with one or two 19-inch rack-mount shelves that each hold up to two dozen 2 TB solid-state drives (SSDs). It scales to eight appliances for a total of 768 TB of SSD capacity. Each system is also available with one or two compute heads. Each compute head includes two eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2680 processors, 128 GB of memory, dual-mirrored boot drives, four Gigabit Ethernet and up to six 10 GigE ports. Dual-head systems provide high availability.

Windows Storage Server 2012 supports iSCSI and network-attached storage (NAS) for block and file storage. It has such built-in storage management features as data deduplication, thin provisioning and snapshotting.

Pricing for the s3000 starts at $70,000 for a single head and eight drives (16 TB).

With the s3000, sTec will compete with large vendors who offer systems built on Windows Storage Server 2012, such as HP's StoreEasy NAS and StoreServ 7000 (3PAR) back-end storage, Dell's PowerVault NX Windows NAS Series and IBM's System x servers.

The sTec system is the only one for Windows Storage Server 2012 based solely on flash. Ali Zadeh, sTec chief marketing officer, said another difference is that other Microsoft partners sell competing NAS and iSCSI storage and may be less committed to their Windows Storage Server 2012 offerings than sTec is.

"The other OEMs don't want to cannibalize their existing business," Zadeh said. "And we bring a level of performance that has not been seen in traditional systems."

Zadeh said the s3000 was developed mainly for industries such as oil and gas exploration, financial services and Internet companies that need the performance that flash can bring.

Jim Bagley, senior analyst at Storage Strategies Now, said sTec is combining a commodity operating system from Microsoft, commodity hardware from Intel and its own flash into an enterprise array. "They're looking for a way to get end-user revenue to make up for the loss of revenue share in the OEM space," he said. "Intel hardware is available on a commodity basis. You can look at Windows Storage Server 2012 as software becoming commoditized by Microsoft. Now, sTec can use those to effectively compete with the big guys."

STec was the first SSD OEM supplier to EMC, IBM and Hitachi Data Systems, but the storage vendors eventually found other suppliers and cut into sTec's market share. As a result, sTec's revenue fell to $22 million last quarter compared to $95 million in the same quarter two years ago. The company lost $25 million last quarter, prompting the change in strategy.

Zadeh said by competing with its former OEM partners, sTec cuts out the middle man and can sell its SSDs at a far lower price. "We would sell it to OEMs for $3 or $5 per gigabyte, and they would sell it for $40 or $50 per gig," he said. "Selling it ourselves, we can offer price and value required in a data center."

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