Dell challenges EMC

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and Dell have jointly upset the small business storage applecart — HDS by raising the bar, Dell by buying its way in big time.

by Chris Mellor

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and Dell have jointly upset the small business storage applecart — HDS by raising the bar, Dell by buying its way in big time.

That’s right: staid old HDS, the enterprise-focused, big storage iron supplier, has brought out a terrific small business storage system. The product is the SMS 100 and
the idea is that it’s disk array storage for SME IT people who don’t like looking under the bonnet.

HDS has given it a disk-drive-fail-in-place property. The box comes with two empty slots. If a drive fails, HDS ships you a new drive, which you slot in. The array software then brings it into use. You leave the failed drive in place. HDS says the SMS 100 can be expected to run for up to five years with this plug-in replacement idea.

Ah, but what happens if a third drive fails? This is where the HDS box gets clever. HDS will ship a complete new SMS 100 box to your customer which is cable-linked to the existing one. All the data is copied across while the original array is still operating. When that’s done the new array is switched on for use and the old one goes back to HDS.

The SMS 100 plugs into a standard three-pin power supply. It has six disks: four for customer data; two for RAID 6 protection. The drives can be SAS (up to 300GB) or SATA (up to 750GB). The capacity runs from 584GB to 3TB. There’s a wizard installation GUI and auto-configuration tool.

For the reseller it’s a sell-and-forget box unless upgrade business comes your way. But what a box. It includes snapshots and optional remote replication. The starting price is about £2,500 for a single controller, 584GB usable capacity box. As far as I can see it challenges HP’s All-in-One Aio400 - it starts at £3,025 ex-VAT - and Aio600, and NetApp StoreVault’s FAS 250 products in the same size category into touch, blows them away in fact.

The SMS 100 upgrade process is pretty easy too by the way. Connect the new box to the old one and watch the data being automatically migrated across. One aspect of such self-contained boxes is that there’s no easy service revenue for resellers. You have to make your money on box margin and on some kind of fuzzy-edged storage consultancy service. It’s almost ironic as it seems HDS implicitly wants its SMS 100 resellers to be box-shifters.

To turn to Dell, the firm just signalled its intention to give EMC a run for its money. Dell has just spent $1.4bn on buying IP SAN vendor EqualLogic. That company has been fighting with Left Hand Networks in the SME/mid-level virtualised ISCSI SAN market and has been going great guns with more than 3,000 customers since its July 2003 first product ship.

Dell had its EMC AX boxes and had introduced a Clariion-based CX3-10 iSCSI SAN box with up to 5TB capacity. This box was said by IBM to provide very limited real world storage capacity, have a poor dollar-per-useable-gigabytes ratio, no expansion beyond the initial drive tray, and its design required shutdown and motherboard removal to fix items.

So Dell went independent of EMC and launched an Engenio-source PowerVault MD3000i with up to 6TB of SATA capacity. It was the iSCSI equivalent of the EMC-based AX150i with its SAS disks.

The iSCSI market is set to boom according to IDC. Revenue from IP SANs is expected to grow to 23 percent of the overall shared external storage market in 2010, $5.1 billion, up from a measly two per cent in 2005; that’s nearly 75 percent compound growth. ESG analysts talk about an iSCSI juggernaut.

Dell must have found iSCSI SAN box sales very promising indeed, because the MD3000i was launched in August and just two and a bit months later it buys EqualLogic. The kit, branded EqualLogic still, will be pumped through Dell’s own channel program as well as having its technology incorporated in Dell’s PowerVault line.

Dell will want a return on its $1.4bn and can be expected to be an aggressive competitor in the iSCSI SAN space. The EqualLOgic boxes are SME to mid-range enterprise kit. An iSCSI PS3000 was priced from $65,000 (say roughly £33,000) a year ago. The low end PS50E is priced around $23,000 (say £11,000).

Put together HDS’ plug-and-forget, no maintenance service SMS 100 and Dell’s EqualLogic purchase and the stage is set for some severe price competition in the SME storage market. There’s no shortage of deep pocket vendors: EMC; HP; IBM; NetApp, no shortage of innovative new comers: HDS; Left Hand, and no shortage of established source OEMs for resellers here: Engenio; Infortrend with its new EonStor, and others.

HDS has raised the service and protection bars. Dell has said it wants a major piece of this market. Join in the coming bunfest or step aside. It promises to be bloody.


Chris Mellor is storage editor of Techworld

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