The Battle for Smallsville

The Battle for Smallsville SMBs are the next great hope for storage networking vendors -- maybe

February 4, 2004

3 Min Read
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If you own a home office, it's not likely you've thought much about buying networked storage unless you're running some sort of video production company out of your basement. (Please! I don't want to know – really!)

The point is that SAN or NAS products aren't the sort of thing one buys at the local computer shop. Not even on special order. Fibre Channel gear is arcane, complicated, expensive. NAS is a lot harder to set up than your local email account. After all, whole companies are dedicated just to explaining this kit to technology experts at large corporations.

But a growing roster of vendors argue that storage networks shouldn't be restricted to big enterprises. In fact, many storage suppliers assert that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are better prospects than many large companies.

There are several elements to the SMB rationale. The biggest one is that users of all kinds need more storage. Retail stores, doctor's and lawyer's offices, small manufacturing companies, consultancies, and even home entertainment centers – all produce and require more data than ever. Those old desktop add-on boxes aren't cutting it when it comes to storing graphics, inventory and accounting data, movies, images, documents, photos, and other digital paraphernalia.

But getting storage technologies that once baffled the brightest ITers into a form consumable by your average small businessperson is no small project. Still, vendors are intent on doing just that.In time, for example, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), hopes companies like Iomega Corp. (NYSE: IOM) will tackle the need for storage devices integrated with servers for home use. Consider the view of Charles Stevens, Corporate VP, Enterprise Storage Division, Microsoft Corp.: "Something is needed that will be very low cost and very expandable, like TiVo for home businesses or small businesses – that kind of ease of use, simplicity, and low cost." Kind of a mini-NAS for home use.

Key to Microsoft's vision is the ascendance of iSCSI and new, fast disk technologies like serial ATA. But others see SMBs turning to standard storage techniques like Fibre Channel.

QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) recently released the SANbox 5200: For less than the price of a wide-screen TV, you can have an eight-port Fibre Channel SAN with wizard setup (see QLogic Stacks SMB Deck). Rival

Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX) also sees SMBs as key buyers for new HBAs aimed for OEMs with "SAN kits" in mind (see Fibre Channel: HBA Hog Heaven).

All this sounds great, but whether high hopes for SMB riches are based on reality remains to be seen. Last time I checked, my dentist was still storing x-rays in color-coded paper files. And down at the local hardware franchise, the inventory may be automated, but it's definitely out of control. I'm not sure a SAN would do anything but add to the confusion.

Don't get me wrong. There is, no doubt, plenty of opportunity in enterprise departments for the kind of storage networking gear that's helping out at headquarters. But SMBs? The jury's still out.— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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