Storage vendors wink at SMBs

One of the most captivating recent pieces of storage news may be the new, petabyte-size DMX-3 Symmetrix from EMC -- especially if you work for one of the few companies that need that kind of capacity and scalability. However important that announcement may be, though, another, more subdued announcement from QLogic will probably affect many more people.

The company recently put out SAN Express, a line of products that's generating a bit of marketing buzz. SAN Express essentially consists of software and hardware products for newcomers to SANs. The product line is supposed to make the dreaded move from attached to networked storage a little easier.

I find the name SAN Express somewhat inaccurate, however, because one might imagine using those products to build just about any SAN, regardless of the protocol used. That's not quite true in this case: SAN Express covers only FC (Fibre Channel) SANs, at least for the moment, and it will be no help if a customer wants to use iSCSI connectivity. "FC Express" would be more accurate.

Nevertheless, QLogic's generalization is understandable because FC SANs have been around for much longer and because iSCSI SANs are usually much easier to deploy and manage.

SAN Express includes the 10-port SANbox Express FC switch and the single-port, PCI-X SANblade Express HBAs.

Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but what sets QLogic's line apart from the rest is its SANsurfer Express, a bundled management application that customers can use to install and configure all the pieces of their storage network, including HBAs, switches, and storage devices.

SANsurfer does all this thanks to VDS (virtual disk services), a technology that's part of the storage-related improvement that Microsoft injected into Windows Server 2003.

In essence, VDS creates a common layer between storage components from different vendors, which allows integrated management from a single application. That's the case with SANsurfer.

Obviously, more vendors are creating VDS clients for their arrays, thereby expanding the number of "easy" devices available for SMB customers and explaining FC vendors' interest in this technology. You may remember that QLogic rivals Brocade and Emulex recently began offering a similar capability with EZPilot.

QLogic promises not only easier management but also a less-expensive SAN entry point with SAN Express. In fact, with its more affordable packaging -- including software, one switch, two HBAs, and optical cables for the connections -- the SANsurfer Starter Kit 1000 costs slightly more than $3,000. Not bad at all.

Will this new low entry point for basic SAN gears and the contextual promise of integrated management and interoperability with a larger range of disk arrays entice more customers? Perhaps, but SAN Express will certainly give QLogic partners more ammunition to make a more convincing case for FC SANs -- and that might just be the ticket to increase conversions to networked storage.

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