EMC's Clariion AX4 tackles growing SMB storage needs

Small businesses, forced to collect and store more information, want systems that let them add capacity as they grow

As small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) save more data and rely on it more, they are turning to networked storage even under the burden of limited budgets and IT expertise.

Regulatory requirements, more sophisticated applications and reliance on Web-based supply chains all are forcing small businesses to collect and store more information, according to IDC analyst Rick Villars. They may not have enough data to fill an enterprise-class storage system today, but they want systems that let them add more capacity as they grow, he said.

EMC is aiming at this growing market with its Clariion AX4, a platform that can scale from a few terabytes of storage to 60TB and take advantage of many advanced EMC storage management applications designed for large enterprises. The company was set to announce and ship it Tuesday.

Swervepoint, a provider of promotional gifts in Middleton, Mass., has less than 1TB of data between its two locations but wants to be able to add storage capacity without buying new servers.

"We should buy our servers for the server qualities and buy storage for our server needs," said Kevin Phoenix, principal in charge of operations and administration.

The 15-employee company's main concerns about networked storage are cost and complexity, and the AX4 eased those worries, Phoenix said. Swervepoint, which counts EMC as one of its own clients, has been a beta tester of the AX4 and purchased a unit. It came with management software that was easy to use, said Phoenix, who said he handles IT for the company but is not an IT specialist.

The AX4 comes with at least 3TB of storage and can be expanded by stringing together as many as five systems with 12 drives each. Each AX4 can be ordered with either a Fibre Channel or a iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) connection, meeting demand for IP (Internet Protocol) connectivity among SMBs, according to Barry Ader, senior director of Clariion marketing at EMC. Smaller companies tend not to have expertise with Fibre Channel, which is typically used in large enterprises, he said. On the AX4, there is no price difference between the two interface options.

The systems will come with 750GB drives at first, but 1TB drives will be available starting in March, opening the door to the AX4's top-end storage capacity of 60TB, Ader said. Within the full AX4 system and even within each enclosure, users can mix and match SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) and SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives. Companies can use management tools including snapshot, failover, business continuity and Microsoft Exchange replication capability with the AX4.

By mixing SAS and SATA drives, users can set up a tiered storage system in which the more critical data is on better-performing, more expensive SAS drives and less critical on lower-performance SATA disks, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. Support for enterprise-class software is another benefit of the AX4, which goes up against SMB storage products from competitors including Network Appliance and Equalogic, King said. In particular, its support for virtualization software from EMC's VMware subsidiary appears to be stronger than in competing products, King said.

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