EMC is not standing pat losing customers to iSCSI any longer; it announced a low cost Fibre Channel array Wednesday to stem the tide.
The smallest of its low-end Clariion storage arrays, the AX 100, on its own is about as exciting as it looks. Picture a gray VCR. But bundle it with an 8-port Fibre Channel switch from Brocade, a sub $500 HBA from QLogic and give it to Dell to package up and sell for just under $10,000, and the picture gets much more colorful.
"The total solution is larger than EMC," said a company spokesman. Hopkinton, Mass.- based EMC Corp. will manufacture the AX 100, but won't sell it. This task is up to its partners: Dell Corp., Round Rock, Texas; Fujitsu Siemens Computers Inc., Milpitas, Calif., Samsung Electronics America Inc., Ridgefield Park, N.J.; and a bunch of U.S. resellers, including Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater, Fla., Bell Microproducts Inc. in San Jose, Calif., Arrow Electronics Inc. in Melville, N.Y., and Avnet Hall-Mark in Tempe, Ariz., a business segment of Avnet Technology Solutions., among others. It's actively seeking more partners in Asia and Eastern Europe, according to the spokesman.
EMC's chief executive officer Joe Tucci hit the road this week with Dell president and chief operating officer Kevin Rollins, to promote the new low-cost Fibre Channel SAN package – a concept unheard of in FC circles until now.
What's prompted this change of heart, then?
In a word, iSCSI. It's no secret to anyone paying attention to the storage market that iSCSI is rocketing along right now. Not only are small shops snapping up this gear for storage consolidation projects, but larger companies are also buying it for business continuance and replication between remote offices.
Telstra, the largest telecom operator in Australia, has stated its intent to migrate off monolithic storage in favor of iSCSI arrays. Lehman Brothers told SearchStorage recently that it has a massive Linux project underway that includes thousands of servers. The bank's systems engineer, who requested anonymity, said it would be pointless to save all the costs associated with buying Linux only to fit each server with a $1,000 HBA. He said iSCSI was the obvious choice for this project and, it seems many other companies are heading down the same path. Network Appliance Inc announced its 100th iSCSI deployment into a production environment in April. And according to Thomas Weisel Partners LLC, which tracks NetApp, that number has already exceeded 500 installs.
It is easy to see why the Fibre Channel community needed to get its act together. Analysts say their plan is to keep iSCSI at bay, or preferably back at the low end of the market where it began.
"iSCSI has been taking an abnormal portion of the midrange market because there was nothing else to fill it … This offering forces iSCSI to play only in the low end," said Arun Taneja, founder of research firm, The Taneja Group.
EMC isn't avoiding the iSCSI market altogether. Symmetrix supports iSCSI, and the company says the Clariion family will support it later this year. "iSCSI is developing, but on the other hand, we are working hard to make Fibre Channel easier to use and low cost. There will be some creative tension in the marketplace as this shakes out," the EMC spokesman said.
Taneja said he believes that Dell will do for low-cost Fibre Channel SANs what Compaq did for Brocade about five years ago. Back when Brocade first started selling Fibre Channel switches, he said the standard was premature, and interoperability issues plagued the market. Users were reluctant to put all the pieces together to build a SAN as it was such a headache. According to Taneja, Compaq stepped in and bundled Brocade's switch with its storage arrays and servers and told users that as long as they bought those exact products in the suggested configuration, there would be no interoperability problems. "That's what put Brocade on the map," Taneja said. "And Dell will be this catalyst for low-end FC SANs ."
For its part, EMC has simplified the hardware so that users, unfamiliar with Fibre Channel, can hopefully manage the box more easily. For example, the storage processor, fan and power supply in the AX 100 are built on a single CRU (customer replaceable unit), which can be pulled out and exchanged for a new one. In the other Clariion arrays, each of these components is an individual unit.
The AX 100 also has a new GUI (graphical user interface) with a task-orientated wizard that pops up to ease the installation and monitoring process. However, this raises a question around how users manage this box with other Clariion arrays? EMC said there will be more AX boxes to come, but declined to give any details. The AX 100 uses Serial ATA drives, which will be available for all the Clariion products at some stage, although again the company ducked out of the details here.
On the software side, the AX 100 comes with basic snapshots, provisioning and array management and offers storage capacity starting at 480 GB, which can scale to 3 TB. One notable downside to the box is that it doesn't support NAS; users must purchase the new NetWin110 for this functionality and cable the two boxes together. That will cost an additional $6,000.
Roger W. Cox, research vice president at Gartner Inc, based in Stamford, Conn., commented that vendors that focus on reducing the cost of SAN storage as well as make it simple-to-use will find a large and receptive audience.
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