It's a good time to be an SMB

If you're a storage professional in a small to medium-sized business (SMB)—which many of our readers are—you're in luck. Virtually every storage vendor recently launched a program to capture a share of the SMB market, which, in terms of storage expenditures, is expected to far outpace the large enterprise market over the next couple of years.

Of course, most of these SMB programs amount to nothing more than lower-cost, easier-to-use versions of existing products but, hey: That's what SMBs want.

The vendor push toward SMBs is perhaps most interesting in the Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) market, which until recently has been synonymous with high cost and difficulty-of-use. And the SMB focus

isn't coming just from the "also-rans" in each market segment. To take just a few examples, duopolists Emulex and QLogic in the host bus adapter (HBA) market, Brocade in the switch space, and Hewlett-Packard all made recent announcements designed to woo SMBs.

For instance, HP is reselling Brocade's new 8-port Fibre Channel switch for $5,000 ($625 per port) and Brocade's new 16-port switch for $12,500 ($781 per port). And Brocade recently released wizards and tools to simplify SAN setup, configuration, and management.

Although $600 per port is very low compared to historical pricing of Fibre Channel switches, it's outrageously high in the context of the Ethernet switch market—which is what SMBs are familiar with.

Can Fibre Channel make inroads into the SMB market? That's a good question, but I don't think that lower prices and easier-to-use products will be enough. An end user faced with building a SAN with $600-per-port switches and $500 HBAs will seriously consider sticking with direct-attached storage or network-attached storage (NAS) or alternatives such as IP SANs based on iSCSI and standard Ethernet gear.

If they're really serious about capturing the SMB market, the Fibre Channel vendors will have to do more than lower prices and bundle wizards. They'll have to educate the SMB market about why they need a SAN in the first place, and they'll have to engage in the old SAN-versus-NAS debate and tackle the new Fibre Channel-vs.-iSCSI controversy.

The SMB market will be a tougher nut to crack than the large enterprise market because SMBs have many more choices, and low prices are often the primary purchasing criterion. But storage vendors will have to crack the SMB market if they're going to sustain growth. So enjoy the renewed attention.

Dave Simpson,

This article was originally published on April 01, 2004