Simplified storage for small businesses

Vendors put SAS and direct connections in the limelight to catch the eyes of SMB customers

This was a rather busy week, no doubt because of the impending Storage Decisions conference. There's nothing like an industry event to fire up the marketing machines, but I was intrigued by the fact that many of the new products and announcements were going small -- as in small business.

Several vendors announced new storage solutions for SMB customers with a common thread: SAS (serial attached SCSI) drives and direct connection to a host.

Take, for example, HP's StorageWorks MSA60 (Modular Storage Array), a storage array that mounts up to 12 SAS or serial ATA drives in 2U of rack space. For more capacity, you can buy up to three similarly shaped expansion units and daisy-chain them to the MSA mothership using SAS connections. This would give you up to 48 drives in 8U.

The MSA60 has no built-in RAID controller, which means that attaches directly (via SAS) to a server mounting the HP SmartArray P800 RAID controller. You can attach two MSA60s (and their expansion modules) to a server so configured.

Sometime next year, HP will release a similar array that mounts small-form-factor drives instead of the MSA60's 3.5-inch drives. The new array, dubbed the MSA70, should be more compact and environmentally friendly, with 50 drives per enclosure that can be doubled with a single 2U expansion unit.

LSI Logic is also courting SME customers with a new product line bearing the promising name "Simplicity." The first product in the Simplicity line, the 1333, features 12 SAS drives, a 2U enclosure, and the DM1300 expansion module with the same capacity and form factor.

Each 1333 can connect up to three DM1300s for a total of 48 drives. Host connectivity is via SAS. The 1333 has its own RAID controller and can mount up to six SAS host connectors, three for each controller. Support for SATA drives should become available next year.

Simplicity is also the name of the array's management software, an application that, according to LSI Logic, makes creating snapshots, copying volumes, and doing general configuration tasks as easy as the product name suggests.

LSI Logic's announcements should be followed shortly by its OEMs (IBM, for example) putting on the market products based on the same architecture. However, it’s interesting to note how the two new solutions from HP and LSI Logic -- although based on the same SAS technology and targeting the same customers -- differ.

The most obvious difference is that HP's solution proposes a host-centric approach where the P800 controller makes for easy connectivity to servers such as the Proliant or the recently announced AIO600, HP's unified file-serving and block-serving solution based on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003.

By contrast, the LSI Logic solution can stand on its own as a storage server, but also attaches easily to a host via SAS. Moreover, with dual controllers and up to six host connections, the Simplicity line can be shared by servers that are part of a Microsoft cluster configuration.

Which solution will SME customers prefer? Less-adventurous customers will probably choose the MSA60, while space-constrained datacenters will find the contained format of the MSA70 irresistible. But customers who see more networked storage in their future may find that the Simplicity line could be a good first step in that direction.

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