If you have listened to the recent, high-pitched hype from many vendors, you would think small to midsize businesses are new to the storage market. In reality, smaller companies and departments have been buying storage for a long time, often from the same vendors that are now so vocal about supporting these "new" markets.
What is true, however, is that among smaller IT departments, those that have adopted networked storage are the exception rather than the rule. Most tend to buy DAS (direct attached storage): either SCSI-connected, self-standing arrays or disks installed directly into their application servers. In fact, only a couple of years ago nobody would have thought of a line of SAN products aimed specifically at these smaller customers.
No matter its size, any company that can lose money when an application server fails should consider moving its data from DAS to a SAN. Unfortunately, cost has been an insurmountable obstacle for smaller customers.
"Historically, our target markets have been the higher-end segments with a datacenter focus, but that's changing," says Mike Smith, executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Emulex. "We're seeing a lot of interest in recent quarters in developing products for the small and midsize business segment."
Smith spoke at the recent Storage Networking World conference, where a panel discussion on the potential of SAN for smaller IT organizations was among the main attractions. Executives from Computer Associates, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft were also in attendance, proving just how many vendors are taking a second look at a market segment that they have largely snubbed in the past. The high cost of SANs is the foremost barrier they're working to overcome.
"If you don't hit the cost points, then the customer is going to rely on installing direct attached storage," comments Marc Padovani, senior product marketing manager of storage solutions at Dell.
To bypass the cost roadblock, earlier this year Emulex introduced a new HBA for Fibre Channel networks, which are significantly less expensive and easier to manage than products that target larger IT environments. Emulex is not the first company to offer low-cost Fibre Channel HBAs, either. Last year, AMCC walked the same path with its ZStar line, which offers the same one-two punch of moderate purchase and administration costs.
In fact, these new generation, entry-level HBAs are roughly half the cost of standard versions. When asked whether they are inferior products that customers will regret buying in the long term, Mike Wall, networking and storage group general manager of the storage components division at Intel, answers an emphatic "no."
"We've integrated a lot of things into one piece of silicon that used to be on six or seven pieces of silicon. That helps to drive down the price and it improves cost/performance ratio," Wall says.
In addition to technological improvements, simplified feature sets comprise a significant part of the cost savings on department-oriented products. For example, the new HBA models offer the same performance of high-end cards, but support only a limited number of operating systems, with Microsoft Windows being the most obvious.
Claude Lorenson, technical product manager of storage technologies at Microsoft, believes reliance on Windows should not be an issue for most organizations.