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Deals abound for high-end storage

Think high-end storage is out of your reach? Maybe not. Conversations with several storage buyers recently suggest that vendors are scrambling to give buyers the best possible deals.

This article originally appeared in "Storage" magazine in their June issue. For more articles like this, go to
Think high-end storage is out of your reach? Maybe not. Conversations with several storage buyers recently suggest that vendors are scrambling to give buyers the best possible deals.

Take Loudeye, in Seattle, Wash., a provider of digital media and webcasting services. The company recently embarked on a project to migrate about 180 TB of data off of three 6,000-slot StorageTek Powderhorn tape silos to online disk, to better support its hosting and digital sample serving businesses.

ATA storage seemed likely to Brian Hanson, Loudeye's director of IT. "Six months ago, I was sure I would go with ATA disk," says Hanson, who had already experimented with some 2TB and 4TB Linux file systems on ATA storage.

He put out 10 RFPs, (see RFPs create savings) and as expected, eight of them came back with proposals for ATA-based disk arrays. What he hadn't expected, however, was that proposals for Fibre Channel arrays -- from StorageTek and IBM -- were only about 20% more than those for ATA-based systems, thanks to some fortuitous end-of-quarter timing. "I was pleasantly surprised," he says.

So even though LoudEye didn't absolutely need the performance afforded by a Fibre Channel disk subsystem, it decided to purchase five StorageTek D280 arrays, each equipped with about 25 TB of 10K 146 GB Fibre Channel disk drives.

"Our experience with Fibre Channel has been really solid, and the warranties are better," Hanson explains. Combine that with a solid relationship with StorageTek's professional services staff, and it was an easy decision.

LoudEye isn't alone in saying "no thanks" to the marginal savings presented by cheap[er] storage. At a "Rate the Disk Vendors" panel at the Storage Decisions conference in New York City this spring, several attendees reported that street prices for high-end monolithic and modular systems are only approximately 10% to 15% apart. For their money, they chose the high-end storage subsystems, and depreciated them over a shorter time period, thereby staying within their warranties and avoiding maintenance costs.

But storage buyers should think twice about buying more storage capabilities than they need, just because the cost is low, says Mike Kahn, managing director of The Clipper Group, technology acquisition consultants in Wellesley, Mass. "The reason you buy a premium array," Kahn says, "is because you want software functionality," which can be quite costly. To use an automotive analogy, "you shouldn't concern yourself with the cost of buying an engine; you should look at the total cost of things like insurance, gas, maintenance, residual value -- the dollar per mile basis." For Randy Kerns, senior partner at Evaluator Group, a 10% to 15% premium between high-end monolithic and modular midrange systems is unusually low. "About 70% of the cost of a system is disk drives," he says, leaving the vendor with between 25% and 30% of the total cost to "play with." Perhaps the vendors really want the business, paving the way to sell more "companion software."

Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, meanwhile, suggests that these storage buyers "could have pushed farther on their midrange systems."

At the same time, the price differential between ATA and Fibre Channel systems may be explained in part by the added cost of Fibre Channel to ATA bridging components required to build out the system, Kerns suggests. List price for such a controller runs around $2,000, says Eric Herzog, vice president of marketing with Ario Networks, an OEM supplier of SAS and SATA components. Therefore, Fibre Channel-to-SATA bridging componentry, when it is amortized over the cost of, say, the 14 disk drives in a shelf, adds about $140 per drive to the cost of the system.

Certainly, the narrowing gap in price between modular and monolithic systems is not part of major OEM's long-term pricing strategy. According to Peter McCaffrey, program director for storage marketing at IBM, "the gap may narrow," he says, but "we are not out to commoditize our systems."

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