EMC Backs Clariion Into ATA

Offers ATA drives as alternative to tape backup. But why is EMC's pricing 35% more than Dell's?

March 13, 2003

5 Min Read
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EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) today announced an ATA drive option for its Clariion family of midrange storage arrays, which the company has positioned as delivering disk-based backup that's faster than tape but less expensive than Fibre Channel drives (see EMC Offers ATA For Clariion).

But when it comes to EMC, "less expensive" is a somewhat slippery term.

To wit: The baseline pricing for the Clariion ATA system is 35 percent more if you buy it from EMC rather than Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), which is the top reseller of EMC's midrange storage offerings. EMC's list price for a 10-Tbyte Clariion with ATA: $171,000. Dell's list price for the exact same hardware and software configuration: $127,000.

What explains the difference? A Dell spokeswoman says the Dell version is "a like-to-like configuration" that includes similar hardware, software, and service options as the EMC product. EMC, though, says this is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. "EMC prices for the direct market, where discounting practices are naturally going to be different from those that Dell will bring to the market," says EMC spokesman Dave Farmer.

As the saying goes in Hopkinton: The "C" in EMC doesn't stand for "charity." It seems clear that EMC customers should demand healthy discounts right out of the gate on the ATA-based Clariion options.Nevertheless, the ATA drives for the Clariion CX400 and CX600 -- which are Maxtor Corp. (NYSE: MXO) 250-Gbyte, 5,400-RPM drives -- end up being about half the cost of Fibre Channel-based drives, says Chuck Hollis, VP of storage platform marketing at EMC. At the same time, they offer one fourth the performance of FC drives.

He notes that ATA does not become more cost effective than FC or SCSI until a customer hits about 2 Tbytes. "Until you get enough capacity you don't see any cost benefits," Hollis says. EMC says the sweet spot for disk backup with ATA-based Clariions is between 10 and 50 Tbytes.

EMC says that the first five drives in a CX400 or CX600 must still be Fibre Channel drives. Hollis says this was "a time-to-market issue." The FC drives are required for some internal housekeeping, he says, including caching copies of snapshot data.

Compared with tape, Clariion with ATA disk is 33 percent faster on backup and as much as five times faster on data recovery, according to EMC. Hollis says the actual throughput of ATA drives vs. tape is only marginally better -- around 30 to 40 percent faster. The real-time savings come from the fact that a disk-based system doesn't need to retrieve and load tapes, as an automated tape library would.

But EMC says ATA-based Clariion systems aren't intended to be a replacement for tape. Rather, this is supposed to fit into the middle ground between expensive SCSI or FC disk storage and low-cost (but cumbersome) tape backup systems. "Tape is still cheaper, and it fits very nicely in a FedEx envelope," Hollis says.Actually, this isn't EMC's first crack at massive ATA-based storage systems. Last April, the company introduced Centera, which uses the same 250-Gbyte Maxtor parallel ATA drives to store and retrieve fixed content more efficiently than tape. But Centera uses an object-based storage architecture -- which EMC has dubbed Content-Addressed Storage -- that requires applications to be rewritten to EMC's proprietary application programming interface (API) (see EMC Has Eyes for Huge Archives and Is EMC's Centera Getting Traction?).

By contrast, a Clariion configured with ATA drives doesn't require any changes at all to existing apps, and EMC has already qualified several backup vendors for this new configuration, including CommVault Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA), KVS Inc., Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO), and Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS). In addition, EMC announced that EMC Data Manager (EDM) now supports backup-to-disk capability (see Vendors Back EMC's Clariion ATA and CommVault, KVA Back EMC ATA).

So why would anyone buy a Centera? It uses a proprietary API, and with a list price of $210,000 for 5 Tbytes of usable storage, it's considerably more expensive than Clariion with ATA drives (especially if you're buying your Clariion through Dell). Hollis says Centera is purpose-built for long-term archival, and it's best suited for customers that require nonrepudiation -- which refers to a digital signature that guarantees the authenticity of a document. EMC says the system has been getting traction in the financial services and healthcare sectors, and claims it sold 1 petabyte (or 1,000 TBytes) of Centera in the fourth quarter of 2002 (see EMC Sells Petabyte of Centera).

EMC is not alone in trying to exploit lower-cost ATA drives for disk-based backup. Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK) are two other major vendors that have aggressively attacked this market (see StorageTek to Punch Into Disk Backup, StorageTek Puts Backups on Auto, and NetApp's Backup Plan).

But some Wall Street analysts are fearful the move into ATA will eat into sales of EMC's existing product lines. "We believe the ATA Clariion is likely to cannibalize EMC's own sales of higher-cost Fibre Channel/SCSI disks, as end users realize the significant cost advantage of ATA disk... for all but the most mission-critical and data-intensive applications," writes Dan Renouard, analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., in a note to investors today. Still, he adds, "it makes more sense for EMC to make the ATA sales than for another company to do so."Hollis says EMC doesn't believe many customers will opt for ATA-based drives on Clariion that would have otherwise bought Fibre Channel or SCSI drives, because the performance difference between the technologies is so great. "You wouldn't want to put a humming Oracle Corp. [Nasdaq: ORCL] database on ATA," he says.

Besides, Hollis says, EMC's margins are about the same whether a customer buys ATA, FC, or SCSI drives, although there would be lower revenue from the ATA-based line. "We see this as incremental revenue. This is serving a market that hasn't been served yet."

Also today, EMC announced SAN Copy, a utility that runs on Clariion that allows any-to-any copying among all current and legacy Symmetrix or Clariion systems, as well as certain Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) arrays, including HP's MSA 1000. With a list price of $18,000, SAN Copy is able to copy up to 4 Tbytes per hour directly from disk to disk (see EMC Debuts SAN Copy Software).

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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