Dell, Network Appliance roll out midrange NAS offerings

The midange NAS (network attached storage) market got a boost on Monday with new product announcements from both Dell Computer Corp. and NAS market leader Network Appliance Inc.

Intent on offering enterprise-class NAS features while staying fixed in the mid-market price range, Dell rolled out its PowerVault 735N, a 144GB NAS system capable of scaling to 1.44TB.

Installed in approximately 15 minutes, the Wintel-based PowerVault 735N offers support for Windows, Netware, Unix, Linux, and Macintosh clients, all for just under US$10,000, according to Dan Blizinski, a NAS product manager for Dell.

A dual-processor XP model of the PowerVault 735N will also be available when the 735 series begins shipping February 16.

"Features like snapshot, load balancing, and mirroring that we will bundle in [the PowerVault 735N] have typically been enterprise-class features," said Blizinski, who fired a volley at Network Appliance's higher midrange price points by saying, "Features that are extra with Network Appliance [NAS products] we want to bundle into the solution for an affordable system for our customers."

For its part, Network Appliance unveiled three new lower- and midrange NAS systems -- the F85, F820, and F820c -- as well as a midrange caching system, the NetCache C3100.

Dismissing charges that the company's pricing is out of line, Chris Bennett, director of marketing at Sunnyvale-based Network Appliance said the company's latest NAS products also offer enterprise-class features such as snapshot and load balancing at affordable midrange price points. But unlike Dell, Bennett said Network Appliance is less content to focus solely on the midrange NAS market.

"Our significantly expanding product offering spans the high-end to the low-end, and [the new NAS systems] are designed with remote offices in mind, priced at PC server prices, because you're not gonna put an expensive [NAS system] out in a remote office," Bennett said.

The Network Appliance F85 Filer can also be installed in approximately 15 minutes, is scalable to 648GB of storage, and has a list price of US$13,900, according to the company. The F820 Filer scales to 3TB of storage and starts at $70,000; the F820c offers 6TB of storage scalability for $195,000; and the NetCache C3100, designed for enterprise-class content delivery with HTTP performance clocked above 90Mbps, retails for $40,000, according to Bennett.

With the introduction of the new systems, Network Appliance announced native support for Windows 2000 on its micro-kernel operating system Data OnTap 6.0, in addition to continued NT, Unix, and Web support, officials said.

Even with higher prices, Network Appliance, the innovator of NAS technology, stands a better chance of capturing a larger share of the midrange NAS market than Dell, according to Ashok Kumar, an industry analyst with US Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Menlo Park, Calif.

"The storage market is very conservative and tends to buy from companies they trust," Kumar said. "There are no NAS vendors with more credibility and momentum than Network Appliance."

Blizinski said Dell is confident of its strategy to target only the midrange NAS market, which he defined as NAS systems between $2,000 and $35,000.

"Let EMC, Network Appliance, and Compaq beat themselves up in the enterprise space," Blizinski said. "We are really focused at that midrange workgroup space. The Dell model that has been successful on servers and storage and PCs is to take those enterprise features and put them in the middle market pricing."

However, Kumar believes "it is imperative for Dell to execute on its enterprise strategy," and develop its high-end offerings by upping its professional services to its enterprise customers and adding in-house software development to further add value to its products. In much the same way that Dell has OEM's its high-end Wintel server from Unisys, Kumar said the company has elected to leverage its partners rather than develop its own enterprise services in-house and that "continued focus on low-end enterprise offerings will constrain the company."

"Unfortunately, [Dell] seems to be unable to reinvent itself, and continues to focus on a business model that it is comfortable with while improving expense ratios," Kumar said.

Along with Dell's new midrange NAS products, the company introduced a desk-side NAS system for small businesses, the PowerVault 701N, which offers 60GB of storage for $1,399. The company also announced a capacity upgrade to its model 705N, up from 120GB to 240GB, for $4,300.

The NAS market is expected to reach over $10 billion in end-use sales by 2004, according to a study by Cahners In-Stat Group, an industry research firm located in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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