WilTel Debuts SAN Service

Wide-area service competes with offering from AT&T

October 26, 2004

3 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- WilTelCommunications Group Inc. has become the latest IXC to offer a storage transport service. At the Storage Networking World tradeshow here today, the carrier announced StoragXtend, a service in which Fibre Channel bandwidth is offered to customers in 50-Mbit/s increments, through OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) rates.

WilTel has teamed with Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) to offer the service. WilTel will install and manage Nortel's Optical Metro 3500 Sonet gear at customer premises in order to deliver the Sonet-compatible SAN transport services, which have been tested for interoperability with Symmetrix DMX and Clariion CX series SAN systems from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC).

WilTel's careful not to make too much of an endorsement of either Nortel or EMC, however. According to Paul Saville, WilTel's director of data services, the agreement with Nortel isn't exclusive, though he says the carrier found "Nortel had the best technology for CPE." Also, he says "dozens" of other SAN boxes, including ones from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) will work with the new services, though they're not officially stamped by WilTel's labs just yet.

The chief beneficiaries of WilTel's new services could be WilTel business customers, folk who want to link multiple SAN sites for disaster recovery across any of the 100-odd U.S. cities where WilTel offers Sonet services -- and who are looking for discounts on multiple offerings.

The key element of the new offering is that it runs on WANs. Unlike metro SAN services, which have been ramping up fairly well, WAN services are scarcer (see SAN Transport's Truckin' in the Metro). They're also used for different applications. Unlike metro services, wide-area SAN services are geared to providing asynchronous disaster recovery, in which backups don't have to be coordinated over short distances, but can take place over a longer time and across greater distances than 50 miles.The primary player in WAN storage services has been AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), which has offered its Ultravailable storage services since May 2003 (see AT&T Puts Hands on SANs). Though other major IXCs have made noises about getting involved for a long time, only AT&T has actually put its money where its mouth is (see Carriers Getting Hip to Storage). And while it seems to have gained customers, it's not clear whether there's room for other players to succeed (see Carriers Getting Hip to Storage).

WilTel's Saville thinks the time is right for an AT&T challenger. "People are moving backup-and-recovery from the metro to the wider area," he says. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for instance, has stressed that companies are better off keeping data backed up across a broader geographic base.

Key to making services take off is pricing, Saville says. "A lot of people who have put disaster recovery and business continuity plans on hold because remote connectivity was cost prohibitive can get those plans active again."

Another key to sales of WAN SANs is cost savings. "We can take a lot of the administrative burden off organizations." Instead of investing in a network that could take many months and a ton of dough to coordinate across a wide area, WilTel customers can get WAN SAN readymade, he asserts.

Will WilTel's pricing really be more flexible than AT&T's, as Saville claims it will be? That's tough to tell, since neither carrier ever divulges how it actually prices business contracts. Further, WilTel doesn't actually have any customers yet, though Saville says there are several quotes out.Ultimately, though, the proof of WilTel's claims for a new market niche will lie in the customers that adopt the new service -- and encourage other carriers to move into the market.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

Need to know more about the latest developments in next-gen Sonet? Come to Light Reading's The Future of Sonet roadshow in Boston on November 16 and Atlanta on November 18. Attendance is free for service providers.

Click here to register for Boston on Tuesday, November 16.Click here to register for Atlanta on Thursday, November 18

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