Another Look at Dell's SMB Rant

Who's really to blame if SMBs don't have SANs?

September 13, 2007

3 Min Read
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Michael Dell's assertion that SMBs are "under-served" by storage vendors has provoked a mixed response from various industry sources. During yesterday's announcement of Dell's new iSCSI SAN, the CEO of the firm that shares his name said SMBs face the unacceptable choice of settling for skimpy solutions or buying stripped-down and overpriced versions of enterprise arrays.

Surely enough, when it comes to SANs, price is always an issue. And for years now, analysts and industry pundits have accused storage suppliers of short-shrifting non-enterprise customers with smaller and less capable versions of their products.

On the other hand, who says SMBs need SANs? And even if they do, haven't a slew of vendors, including EMC, IBM, and NetApp, offered iSCSI as a lower-end SAN solution for years?

The answer appears to be "Yes, but..." True, IDC research quoted by Dell indicates that less than 20 percent of SMBs and medium-sized firms use SANs. At the same time, though, IDC issued the following in its statement about the firm's latest Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker this week: "[T]he iSCSI SAN market continues to show strong momentum, posting 57.2% revenue growth year over year, reaching $191 million in the second quarter. Network Appliance continues to lead the market with 21.3% share, followed by EMC with 16.8% share."

Okay, we know iSCSI isn't automatically a fit for SMBs. It can be just as tough to implement as Fibre Channel if one doesn't have the right skill set -- or if the equipment and software isn't tailored for a less-trained implementer. But doesn't it stand to reason that if you're looking at a SAN in the first place, you must either know what you're doing or have someone with you who does?That seems to be the problem. According to IDC analyst Brad Nisbet, SMBs aren't necessarily looking at SANs, iSCSI or Fibre Channel. "I believe that today's SMBs, in general, have plenty of options for storage," writes Nisbet in an email to Byte and Switch this week. "For many SMBs, the pain point has not been great enough to consider moving from DAS... to networked storage."

This isn't just blaming the victim. Nisbet also asserts that Dell has a point. There are products that are just "dumbed down" versions of enterprise wares and still priced too high for SMBs. What's more, Nisbet says that Dell's comments could help SMBs to "realize there is a better way" -- the networked storage way.

Predictably, Dell's competitors think they're already doing a fine job, especially in the iSCSI space. But at least one iSCSI supplier thinks it may be the case that iSCSI products aren't getting into the right hands, either because distributors haven't provided them or suppliers haven't made them simple enough.

According to Kevin Daly, CEO of iSCSI component supplier iStor, iSCSI is the future of SANs, period, and and Dell is doing well to pay heed to a key market segment. "This [iSCSI] market, which [IDC estimates] will grow from essentially nothing to 20% of the storage systems market, is very heavily centered in the SMB segment," writes Daly in an email. "The storage industry will continue to evolve and the durable companies in the industry will adapt to serve this market segment more effectively. There is, by the way, a danger that those who dont may well cease to remain leaders -- even cease to exist."

We can conclude that storage vendors have a lot to offer SMBs, and they're eager to offer more. At the same time, while there is a need to hone the storage wares on the market to better fit small companies, it's not a given that SMBs are being neglected. And it remains to be seen whether they'll start taking up SAN solutions more aggressively in the near term.What do you think? Is Dell right? Take our latest poll, hit the message boards, or write to us here.

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • IDC

  • iStor Networks Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc.

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