SNW - Users see commodity storage as blessing, curse

Dell will resell EMC's midrange arrays

Small to midsize companies can expect to see a significant drop in storage hardware costs over the next year as big name vendors such as Dell and Intel produce standardized equipment in an effort to further commoditize the industry.

Dell announced at Storage Networking World this week that it is now reselling EMC's midrange Clariion Fibre Channel/iSCSI arrays and will offer a 10Gbit/sec Ethernet switch beginning next month in conjunction with the arrays in order to help companies backup stranded servers.

Both Dell and Intel representatives said they are trying to take the guess work out of deploying storage.

Jim Ward, a storage administrator with U.S.-based SLM -- better known as Sallie Mae -- said his company is currently evaluating iSCSI technology to determine where "it might fit" in his infrastructure -- "as long as it plays well with everything else in our infrastructure," he said.

Praveen Asthana, director of Storage at Dell, said his company is rebranding EMC's CX3-20 and CX3-40 Clariion arrays that were released in the spring, which offer either Fibre Channel connectivity or a mix of Fibre Channel and iSCSI connectivity to application servers. "The thing we're trying to do at Dell is change the economics of storage," Asthana said.

Last year, Dell began reselling EMC's AX150i entry-level storage array, which can also be configured for Fibre Channel or iSCSI. Since introducing that array, Asthana said sales of iSCSI models have far outpaced those of Fibre Channel. The CX3-20, which scales to 59TB, has a starting price of about US$53,000 retail.

The CX3-40, which scales to 119TB, starts around $90,000. Asthana said Dell will configure the midrange Clariion arrays and accompanying servers at its factories storage components such as backup software, host bus adapters or storage resource management software. The arrays and servers can then also be configured along with Dell PowerConnect 10Gb Ethernet switches, which with 24 or 48 ports will be about half the per-port cost of other competitive switches, Asthana said. "When it gets to the customer it will be ready to go," he said.

The PowerConnect switches will include features such as the ability to prioritize iSCSI traffic and VLAN capabilities so that both a LAN and SAN network can be deployed simultaneously. Seth Bobroff, director of marketing at Intel, said his company is focused on developing on storage-specific silicon chips based on its x86 architecture and standard Xeon chip for commodity deployment of direct-attached storage, network-attached storage and storage area networks. Intel has also been building white box storage arrays that include a 2TB array with RAID 5 capability based on its x86 architecture sold through about 180,000 channel partner vendors around the world.

Bobroff said Intel will be developing chips with a focus in three areas: data protection, performance and manageability. For example, in September, Intel introduced the IOP34x series of chips that offer RAID 6, which is the ability have two disks fail in a storage array without loss of data. The IOP34x series also offers support for high-speed serial-attached SCSI (SAS) and serial ATA (SATA) connectivity.

"There's a lot we can do to make the systems less costly ... and easier to use," Bobroff said. Intel is also working through the Storage Bridge Bay Working Group, which recently released a specification that uses a common array chassis that accepts a variety of controllers. "It's a first step in trying to modularize the chassis and controller form factor," Bobroff said, adding that users should begin seeing commoditized products based on Storage Bridge Bay in the next six months or so.

"This effort here will address some of the cost issues," he said. Users at the conference in Orlando said they are considering deploying storage architectures based on commoditized storage, but they are also concerned that manageability will become increasingly more difficult.

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