Aiming for the middle

Make no mistake about it: Individual market share numbers be damned, EMC is still the king of storage -- or at least is perceived to be by its competitors. So recently, when the Hopkinton, Mass.-based company unveiled a new line in its Clariion family of modular storage systems, the storage community and EMC's competitors took notice.

Took notice with good reason, we might add, because EMC CEO Joe Tucci's tone in making the Clariion CX600 announcement was not exactly conciliatory: "There is only one point in our mind, and it is to take share in this market space." It's obviously a declaration of price war.

Designed with the help of Dell Computer Corp., the master of the low-cost model, EMC's new CX600 system is believed to be significantly less expensive than offerings from the likes of IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Sun Microsystems Inc.

There is much to like about the CX600. The architecture is modular, and EMC promises those modules will be reusable in future systems. In full configuration, CX600 can pack 165 disk drives, using the same space where the FC4700 (EMC's previous top-line Clariion system) could stack only 100. Did we mention four 2GHz processors, two controllers, and 2Gbps FC (Fibre Channel) interfaces?

The Clariion CX600 exudes such raw power and great capacity that, according to the company road map, it will put future versions on the same chart with EMC's Symmetrix system. We don't have the space to list all the details of the software for the CX600 -- let's just say that it's a departure from the FC4700 (and a significant step closer to the Symmetrix software), providing snapshots and remote replicas over both IP and FC.

The CX line -- other models will follow the CX600 -- promises to be similar in management and disaster-recovery features but less expensive and slightly less powerful than Symmetrix and will not support mainframes and high-end servers.

But EMC's foes are quick to point out that EMC still hasn't quite got a handle on the midrange market. And we're inclined to agree. EMC will invariably face difficulties in working with a high-cost, high-margin model with its Symmetrix line and a low-cost, low-margin model with its Clariion line. Competitors note that the Clariion business will live or die by the ability of EMC's new distribution partners and Dell's ability to get to the midrange customers before HP, IBM, or Sun.

The problem, according to IBM executives, is that storage systems and SANs are not a commodity product like servers. In other words, a SAN's complexity means that some level of service will always be required to ensure it is designed and operating as planned.

That's probably true, but let's note that the Symmetrix and Clariion "commodities" have done pretty well so far. By offering more bang for the buck, the CX600 should do even better.

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