Entry-level storage market heats up

IBM delivers more storage for SMBs with new FC and iSCSI models

If you thought IBM was running behind its competitors with storage products for SMBs, think again. The latest announcements from Big Blue target the entry-level segment, proposing two new TotalStorage arrays, the DS300 with iSCSI (Internet SCSI) connectivity, and the DS400 with FC (Fibre Channel).

Both models have a similar 3U enclosure that mounts as many as 14 Ultra320 SCSI drives, and both include IBM ServeRAID Manager software. However, there are differences beyond the connectivity distinctions between iSCSI and FC. The DS300 can expand to only 2TB while adding two more disk enclosures to its SCSI controllers; the DS400 gets close to 6TB of nominal space.

Both units have competitive starting prices. The DS300 starts at $3,000, much less expensive than most other iSCSI arrays. Pricing for TotalStorage DS400 starts at $5,000 for a two-controller version with 5TB of disk storage.

By comparison, Intransa, a relatively small vendor offering the IP 5000 line of iSCSI arrays, recently released an entry version, the IP 3000, priced at $32,000 for a 2TB capacity.

LeftHand Networks, another longtime vendor of iSCSI arrays, recently added the NSM (network storage module) 150 to its clustered storage solution. The NSM 150 offers as much as 1TB of storage and a starting price of $6,000.

Should we conclude that IBM offers the best iSCSI deal because of its price/capacity ratio? Not necessarily. The temptation to use the price/capacity metric to compare different units may be strong, but storage arrays come in so many different sizes and forms that comparisons are difficult.

Moreover, the software bundled or offered as an option on those arrays makes things even more confusing for potential buyers, who may find it difficult to define metrics for an all-inclusive comparison of different products.

In addition, some features may carry a different value across the range of SMB customers. For example, a fast-growing company will probably define scalability quite differently than one that anticipates a more predictable and contained business expansion.

However, the difficulty in making a fair comparison between storage arrays doesn't make the offer from IBM less appealing for many SMB customers.

It would be wrong to dismiss the DS300 as just another storage array for SMB. It's important to remember that IBM is the first, first-tier vendor to enter the SMB segment with an iSCSI array. In so doing, IBM extends its price war with major rivals such as EMC and HP to that market segment.

With the notable exception of Network Appliance, that area is represented by small vendors such as EqualLogic, Intransa, or Left Hand Networks, which could suffer from the competition.

With that in mind, IBM TotalStorage DS300 could motivate other vendors in that area to review their iSCSI strategy and possibly to seek allies. We are getting close to a cooler autumn, but the temperature in the iSCSI market just got hotter. Stay tuned.

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