Enterprise Storage Vendors Try Again to Woo SMB Market

Dell, Fujitsu, IBM, Double-Take, and others offer sophisticated features in 'simple' and easy-to-use products

October 8, 2008

6 Min Read
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Enterprise storage vendors are making another run at the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market, rolling out a new wave of products with high-level features they promise are simple, affordable, and easy-to-manage by businesses with few IT resources to dedicate to storage management.

It isn't the first time that enterprise storage vendors have targeted the SMB market. But they haven't had a great deal of success winning over smaller companies that are interested in the capabilities of networked or shared storage systems, but can't handle the complexity they add to their IT infrastructure.

"Most major vendors failed with their initial attempts to address the SMB market because they watered down their enterprise products, Ben Woo, vice president of storage systems at IDC , told ByteandSwitch. "Smaller businesses, which can easily now have a terabyte or more of storage, need the same features and functions as larger companies. Size doesn't matter, it's whether they have the resources to handle the day-to-day challenges of information management."

IDC predicts that file-based storage will continue to grow by 80 percent a year through 2011, and that most SMB IT departments will be looking for hardware and software products that will help them simplify and automate the storing, movement, backup, and management of that data. Those trends are helping to fuel a wave of products ranging from simple appliances to wizard-based management software to online backup services, all aimed at the small and mid-sized business market or the branch/remote office market.

"The key point is the ability to manage it all. Enterprise vendors in the past offered storage management applications with training wheels," Charles King, president of analyst firm Pund-IT Inc. , told ByteandSwitch. "These days large vendors like EMC, IBM, HP, Dell and many others are being much smarter than in the past and are beginning to offer tools that contain what smaller businesses want."That is evident in the new products that are being announced this week in advance of the upcoming Storage Network World and have been rolled out in the past few weeks at other trade shows and conferences. IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), for example, last week enhanced its BladeCenter S system for small businesses with shared storage and a BladeCenter Start Now Advisor to help customers through the setup process and a BladeCenter Service Advisor to flag potential problems. Unitrends Corp. added a simplified management console and wizards to its backup and recovery product. And F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV) introduced Data Manager software to help companies handle the growing amounts of unstructured data they're storing by analyzing usage patterns and automating tiering, simplifying the backup processes, and helping with capacity planning.

Today, Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), and Double-Take Software Inc. (Nasdaq: DBTK) jumped on the simple and easy-to-use bandwagon with new products.

Dell introduced its PowerVault DL2000 iSCSI disk-to-disk backup and recovery system, which offers replication, continuous data protection, archiving, 15-times data de-duplication and compression, and sophisticated search-and-discovery capabilities. The system can hold up to 144 TB of usable storage on SATA arrays and comes with management software from CommVault or Symantec. The big pitch: It can be up and running within 30 minutes after taking it out of the box. It will be available later this month; pricing was not revealed.

"We have a wizard interface that asks questions and the system automatically configures and provisions everything. You don't need a storage or RAID expert to handle this," said Brett Roscoe, senior manager for product marketing data protection and data management at Dell. "Storage for the small and mid-sized business market is a real opportunity for us, and this is a key product to lead the way."

Fujitsu Computer Systems today introduced a NAS appliance that it says can transfer file- and block-level data over Ethernet networks. The entry-level UDS 1000 powered by Eternus Storage offers unified storage with NAS and a SAN built into a single device. It starts at $10,000 for 4.5 TB of storage on SAS drives. A key feature is Windows Unified Data Storage Server software, according to Steve Layman, storage product marketing manager for Fujitsu.Most of the small and mid-sized businesses the company is targeting with the product don't have storage-area networks, yet they need more features and capabilities. However, they don't have the budget or staff to deal with complexity, he said. "We're offering a turnkey appliance that can cut space and power requirements in a data center, and leverages our partnership with Microsoft to include software that makes it easy to provision and share storage, do file-level deduplication, take snapshots, do remote management, and index-based full-text search," Layman said.

Another vendor taking advantage of the massive installed base of Windows in the SMB market is Double-Take, which introduced software to turn any Windows server and storage into an iSCSI SAN. Called sanFLY, the company claims it can "quickly create an IP SAN in minutes using hardware you already have." The company also introduced netBoot/I, a centralized workload management tool to assign workloads and boot images to any physical or virtual machine. netBoot/I licenses are $95 per managed workstation and $399 for a managed server. sanFly costs $396 per iSCSI target.

"Small businesses know there are benefits to storing their data out on a network and making it available over a network because it lets them move it around and add new servers or storage capacity," said Bob Roudebush, director solutions engineering at Double-Take. "We're offering a simple system that lets them enjoy those advantages without having to buy high-end specialized equipment or lock themselves into a vendor-specific solutions."

The storage industry is shifting its product focus away from the nitty-gritty of data storage toward what SMBs really care about -- information management, said IDC's Woo. "Look at the Fujitsu offering. It is just a bunch of disks on an x86 server and uses a storage-optimized version of Windows. For SMBs, that is both familiar and simple. And it provides a 'good-enough' level of performance compared to high-end systems. I think we're going to see a massive movement to file-based storage solutions built on industry standard components."

Pund-IT's King agrees. "Effective management applications are more critically important today than ever before. Storage managers now handle terabytes of data, not gigabytes," he said. That's why he also expects to see more Windows-base storage tools pitched to the SMB market. "It is the operating environment of choice for SMBs and Windows management tools and a common dashboard are a terrific value-add to any hardware product."It is too early to tell whether the new wave of storage product from enterprise vendors offer the right mix of features and performance, at the right price, to meet the needs of SMBs. But it is clear that the market opportunity is there.

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