EqualLogic aims at enterprises, backs Microsoft

EqualLogic unveiled new storage array for enterprises

EqualLogic unveiled a new storage array, the PS300E, its first product targeting enterprises as well as its traditional midrange customer base Tuesday at the Storage Decisions conference in New York. The storage area network (SAN) company also stepped up its partnership with Microsoft, announcing support for the vendor's new System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) continuous data protection software.

The new EqualLogic array, due to ship Oct. 1, has a capacity of 7TB and uses 500GB SATA II (serial advanced technology attachment) drives, according to John Joseph, the company's vice president of marketing. The SATA drives feature native command queuing to facilitate more rapid data retrieval, he added.

"We had targeted the midrange," Joseph said in a phone interview Friday. "It’s the sweet spot in the market for us, but we've seen customers pushing us into running more and more applications on our storage devices." The number of applications running on a single storage device has gone from one or two to 10 or more, he added.

EqualLogic has worked closely with Microsoft to ensure full integration of all the EqualLogic PS Series storage arrays, including the new 300E, running on Windows with the software vendor's DPM, Joseph said.

The storage company became a Microsoft Gold Partner earlier this month, a certification which both allows EqualLogic to gain early access to Microsoft technology as well as boosting the marketing power for its products, according to Joseph. The two companies already had a long-standing relationship with Joseph estimating that EqualLogic and Microsoft engineers have been working on iSCSI for the past three years.

"More than 90 percent of our customers are running Microsoft in part of their operations," Don Bulens, EqualLogic chief executive officer and president, said in an interview Friday. "Fifty percent of our customers are running mixed operating system environments, the other half are running Microsoft alone."

Microsoft's DPM takes a series of snapshots of data that can be recovered by end users. Generally available Tuesday, the continuous data protection software has an estimated retail price of $950, which includes one server license and management licenses to protect three file servers.

Continuous data protection (CDP) is one of the hottest technologies in today's storage world since more and more customers want to be able to back up their corporate data when changes occur and then recover that information rapidly. Players both large and small either already have CDP products in the market or are gearing up to release them.

IBM released its Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files software last month, while Symantec is due to unveil its offering, formerly known as Panther and renamed Backup Exec 10d, at the Storage Decisions show this week. Symantec gained the technology through its acquisition of Veritas, which it completed in July. EMC Corp. is widely believed to be about to release a CDP product, according to Dave Russell, Gartner Inc.'s research director for storage software.

There is something of a religious debate over true CDP and near CDP, Russell said, with some vendors' products being able to save and recover data almost instantly compared with other offerings like Microsoft's DPM, which only take snapshots of data at specific points in time.

"The real question though is what are businesses doing?" Russell said in an interview Friday. "Typically, organizations take a nightly backup every 24 hours, so augmenting their data recovery capabilities to hourly versus daily is still an order of magnitude [improvement]."

Although Microsoft's DPM is the least competitive product in terms of both its features and functionality, the software giant's move into CDP is important, according to Russell. "Microsoft was the first to start discussing CDP, they raised the conversation and awareness in general [about the technology]," he said. With the release of DPM, a company the size of Microsoft effectively legitimizes the whole technology concept, Russell added. Partners like EqualLogic will fill in the holes in Microsoft's storage strategy, he noted.

Other partners announcing support for Microsoft's DPM include Advanced Micro Devices, Computer Associates International, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Quantum.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server Division, is set to talk up the DPM software and its place in the company's overall storage strategy in a keynote address at Storage Decisions Tuesday evening. Microsoft is also announcing the beta release of its Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, with the completed product due to ship by the end of 2005, according to a company release. The software giant's ultimate goal is to make Windows-based storage management cheaper than non-Microsoft environments, the release stated.

In combination with DPM, EqualLogic can help streamline file backup and cut the costs of storage management substantially, according to Joseph. Users can create a replica of the information contained in their data center at their primary location and then transport that replica to a new site, he said. Should the primary site fail, customers can then restart the data center in the primary site using the replica they created. "It only takes five to 15 minutes for the system to be mounted," Joseph added.

"It's been possible to do all this before, but it just took a much greater amount of times," Bulens noted.

Looking ahead, EqualLogic expects to announce its 600th customer next month, according to Bulens. The company is continuing its push into vertical markets and will also announce an initiative to target the health-care market in October, Joseph said. EqualLogic is already a player in the higher education, government and financial sectors, adding a focus on the legal services market last month.

The challenge the company faces is to grow with the market and scale its organization accordingly, according to Bulens. "The vast majority of our business over the past two years has been in the North America market," he said, although the company does have some customers in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

EqualLogic is looking at establishing an operation in Europe and stepping up distribution partnerships in both Europe and Asia, Bulens said. The company has yet to decide where to base itself in Europe, but the three largest markets -- the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K. -- are likely possibilities, he added.

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