FC SAN vendors target SMBs

By Dave Simpson

A number of research reports have indicated that the growth of storage area networks (SANs) in large enterprises is leveling off, while the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market represents a potentially huge, untapped market. Not surprisingly, virtually every storage vendor has refocused its efforts on the SMB space, including vendors of products for Fibre Channel SANs. (International Data Corp. defines an SMB as any company with fewer than 1,000 employees.)

The trend is most evident in recent initiatives from the market share leaders in various SAN segments, including Emulex and QLogic in host bus adapters (HBAs), Brocade in switches, and Hewlett-Packard in SANs and disk arrays. Each of those vendors recently launched initiatives that signal good news for storage administrators in SMBs who need significantly lower acquisition and operating costs, as well as less complexity.

For example, Emulex is shipping to OEMs a Fibre Channel HBA for PCI-X servers—the LightPulse 101, or LP101—that is expected to be priced at less than $500 for end users. Shipments to end users are expected within the next month. The HBAs are compatible with Windows Server 2000/2003, Linux, and NetWare.

In addition, Emulex added wizards to its management software to simplify installation and configuration. For example, an Auto-Pilot-Installer tool walks users through installation in a step-by-step fashion, and an AutoPilot-Manager tool simplifies configuration and management.

Emulex archrival QLogic is bundling SAN starter kits for SMBs that have not implemented SANs. For example, QLogic's SAN Connectivity Kit 3000 is priced at $6,999 (MSRP) and includes the company's SANbox 5200 Fibre Channel switch with four ports enabled, four SANblade 2340 HBAs with optical interfaces, SANsurfer Management Suite software, four fiber-optic cables, and eight small-form-factor pluggable (SFP) connectors. The SAN Connectivity Kit is available through QLogic's channel partners. Operating system support includes Windows NT/XP/ 2000/2003, Solaris, Linux, and NetWare. (For more information about the SANbox 5200 switch, see "QLogic stacks SAN switches," InfoStor, March 2004, p. 10.)

Other Fibre Channel HBA vendors—including ATTO Technology, LSI Logic, and AMCC (which completed its acquisition of HBA manufacturer JNI earlier this year)—are also lowering prices and reducing complexity.

For example, at last month's Storage Networking World (SNW) conference, LSI Logic demonstrated its MyStorage HBA management software, which is designed for SMBs and includes support for dynamic multi-pathing (DMP). The demo showed how the software's DMP feature detects failed components (such as a cable) and non-disruptively re-routes I/Os across an alternative HBA data path.

Brocade, which still has the lion's share of the fabric switch market, recently added two low-end switches—the 8-port SilkWorm 3250 and 16-port SilkWorm 3850—as well as wizard tools to simplify SAN setup and configuration functions such as assigning IP addresses and setting default zoning. The switches do not include a number of features that are included in Brocade's high-end switches; for example, features such as trunking, fabric security, and performance monitoring are optional. The 1U fabric switches operate at 1Gbps or 2Gbps and are fully non-blocking. Pricing is set by Brocade's OEMs.

Hewlett-Packard was the first of Brocade's OEMs to release versions of the SilkWorm 3250 and 3850. HP is selling the 8-port switch for $5,000 (22% less than its previous 8-port switch) and the 16-port version for $12,500 (15% less than its predecessor). (Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, StorageTek, and Sun Microsystems have also announced plans to resell Brocade's low-end switches.)

HP released the low-cost switches as part of its Smart Office initiative for SMBs, a program that was launched last fall and covers a variety of HP's product lines. Also as part of the initiative, HP announced that it will support Serial ATA drives across its line of StorageWorks MSA disk arrays within the next month.

In addition, at last month's SNW conference, HP announced disk drives that combine Serial ATA and Fibre Channel features. Dubbed Fibre Attached Technology Adapted (FATA), the drives are manufactured by Seagate and will be available with HP's Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) disk systems in July. The drives combine the high-capacity (up to 250GB) and low-cost features of Serial ATA drives with Fibre Channel connections (2Gbps), enabling users to implement tiered storage in a single system. HP officials say that the FATA drives will cost approximately 50% less per gigabyte than Fibre Channel drives.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2004