Xiotech Tacks on Tiers

Here's another claim for Fibre Channel lite. Is Xiotech casting its net too wide?

August 24, 2004

4 Min Read
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Xiotech Corp. is the latest vendor to announce a "Fibre Channel lite" drive to provide a lower-cost option for customers that yearn for the performance of disk-based backup -- but not its price.

Xiotech today announced that its Magnitude 3D SAN arrays will feature a new Fibre Channel-compatible drive called Economy Enterprise at roughly 60 to 70 percent the cost of the vendor's full-fledged FC drives. Xiotech also has serial ATA (SATA) drives at roughly 30 to 40 percent the cost of full-fledged FC (see Xiotech Rolls Out Drives, New EVP ).

Xiotech says all three kinds of drives can use the same controller in the same Magnitude 3D console and operate as one cluster under the vendor's management software. The Economy Enterprise drives are available now, but the SATA option won't ship until the third quarter of this year.

Xiotech, which has made a solid start for itself in the market, is the latest vendor to announce a "tiered" storage strategy, in which different types of disk drives populate one storage array (see Top Ten Private Companies: Early Summer 2004, page 5). The idea is to broaden customer options for disk backup.

"The goal is the right purpose for the right media," says Mike Stolz, Xiotech's new executive VP of marketing -- formerly of Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) and Eurologic -- whose appointment at Xiotech is also part of the company's news this week.Xiotech spokespeople say customers need: lots of cheap SATA storage to back up data they won't be needing to look at very often (can you say compliance?); Economy Enterprise for data that's important to check out from time to time; and full-scale Fibre Channel for backups that must be frequently available.

So far, one other vendor, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), offers tiered storage that includes regular Fibre Channel and a "Fibre Channel lite," via its Fibre Attached Technology Adapted (FATA) for its HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) series (see HP Expands StorageWorks). HP's FATA is used in the EVA arrays alongside full-fledged Fibre Channel. A company spokesman says he knows of no plans yet to add SATA, though SATA and SCSI operate together in the HP StorageWorks MSA array series for SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses).

EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) has made no formal announcement, but word has it the vendor is mulling a similar "Fibre Channel lite" tack as an addition to its Symmetrix line (see Mixed Drives in the Mix).

Other vendors have announced tiered storage that doesn't necessarily include two kinds of Fibre Channel: BlueArc Corp., for instance, offers FC and ATA storage in its Titan SAN via an OEM agreement with Engenio Information Technologies Inc. (see BlueArc, Engenio Announce OEM).

At least one analyst questions the tiered storage approach in general. "I'm not sure why you'd need two lost-cost drive options," says Stephanie Balaouras, senior analyst at The Yankee Group.On the surface, there seems to be little difference between Xiotech's SATA and Economy Enterprise storage options, at least in terms of raw capacity and performance. Xiotech's Economy Enterprise FC drives support 300 Gbytes of storage and run at 7,200 rpm; its SATA option offers 250 Gbytes at 7,200 rpm. Full-fledged FC drives from Xiotech support 36 to 73 Gbytes at 15,000 rpm or 146 Gbytes at 10,000 rpm.

Still, Xiotech's goal is to serve the SMB market, and the vendor seems willing to take multiple shots at the same target -- as indeed, does HP. Whether Xiotech gets more with its particular combination remains to be seen. So far, the company can point to no customers that are using its new kit.

Xiotech's Economy Enterprise drives are based on hardware from Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX), Xiotech's original owner (it was spun off with private funding in 2002). The new drives basically deploy a regular FC interface with drives that run like lower-cost ATA drives. For Xiotech's SATA option, the company's opted to break from Seagate for the first time ever and use drives from Maxtor Corp. (NYSE: MXO).

HP's also using the Seagate drives, as well as drives from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST).

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch0

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