A bundle of storage for SMBs

NEC adds more hardware and software to strengthen U.S. presence

According to a recent IDC study, U.S. sales of disk storage systems in 2004 came close to $8.7 billion, accounting for more than 38 percent of the worldwide revenue for that segment. Note also that Western Europe came in second with $6.9 billion, followed by Japan with $2.7 billion, and other Asian/Pacific countries with a combined total of a little more than $2 billion.

I recalled these numbers during a recent conversation with representatives of NEC Solutions America about their company's renewed attention on the U.S. storage market. Just about everybody knows NEC's servers and monitors. The company's portfolio, however, includes many products that aren't necessarily popular in the United States or even sold here. Did you know, for example, that NEC offers storage arrays in the U.S. and has been doing so for quite some time?

NEC is one of the largest companies in the world, says Dick Csaplar, product manager for NEC's Server Platform Group. "We are the combined HP and IBM of Japan," he adds with understandable pride.

Nevertheless, at least where storage revenue is concerned, things could be better for the company. In fact, although the same IDC report places NEC -- with global revenue of just more than $307 million -- at No. 10 among storage vendors, the trend shows that its storage sales have been diminishing for the past two years. 

Future analyses may tell quite a different story, though, because NEC seems determined to have a more decisive presence in the U.S. storage market. "We are really getting into that market and making an aggressive push, now," Csaplar says.

He adds that NEC's current U.S. market presence is "infinitesimal."

The predictable target of the company's attention is the promising crowd of SMB customers. NEC just announced two more storage systems -- the S1200 and S2400 -- and some new accompanying management software. Together with the existing, larger S2800 model, these offerings cover the capacity, performance, and price-range demands of the SMB market segment. The new systems should be available in September.

Both the new and old NEC systems have some interesting characteristics. They have the capability, for example, to run RAID6, a technology that can survive the consecutive failure of two disk drives. And NEC developed a proprietary technique, appropriately named "Phoenix," to maintain working conditions for disks with bad sectors. This reduces the need for rebuilding the content of a failing drive over a spare unit.

Nothing too surprising so far, but NEC's approach is rather unique because the company is offering those storage arrays and applications in predefined bundles. Customers choose from among the bundles according to specific requirements, such as availability, reliability, or performance.

For example, if resilience is your primary concern, you can select any of the three arrays preconfigured in the availability bundle, which includes a redundant hardware configuration as well as data-replica and snapshot applications.

The starting price for that configuration is $70,000 if you choose an S1400, but jumps to $210,000 for a more capable and faster S2800 unit.

By contrast, a reliability bundle with an S1400 starts at $30,000.

You can also adjust each bundle to your capacity requirements, but choosing from a range of predefined configurations should help customers and NEC partners determine a satisfactory and technically consistent configuration much more quickly and with less trial and error.

"Our resellers tell us that sometimes they have to come up with 10 quotes to meet customers' requirements, because there are so many permutations to consider," Csaplar says.

Will the bundle strategy pay off for NEC? I'm not venturing a prediction, but what's certain is that SMB customers will have more storage options from which to choose. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Join me on The Storage Network blog to discuss this and other topics.