NetApp delivers hybrid array for SMBs

By Kevin Komiega

—Network Appliance is looking to become a major player in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market, and it's betting that a new hybrid storage system will get it into the game.

The company recently launched the StoreVault S500, a network storage appliance for SMBs that supports NAS, iSCSI SAN, and Fibre Channel SAN connectivity in the same array. The goal is to combine iSCSI, SAN, and NAS into a single storage pool and make in manageable from a single, Windows-based user interface.

The S500 scales to 6TB of capacity utilizing either 250GB or 500GB Serial ATA (SATA) hard drives and supports Microsoft's iSCSI Software Initiator for IP SAN connectivity. The box can also use Silverback Systems' iSNAP2110 iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA) initiator card to boost TCP/IP speeds in iSCSI SAN environments.

However, SMB customers needing a Fibre Channel-based S500 will have to wait a few months as NetApp waits on Microsoft Simple SAN certification before rolling out the Fibre Channel option. Microsoft launched its Simple SAN Initiative last year to foster midrange SAN configurations based on the Windows Storage Server platform. Under the program, Microsoft provides technical support to hardware partners to help simplify the task of setting up a SAN and ultimately make them Windows-friendly.

NetApp expects Microsoft to stamp the StoreVault S500 as Simple SAN-certified later this fall. In preparation for Microsoft's green light, NetApp is currently partnering with QLogic to develop the StoreVault FC Starter Kit. The Kit will enable customers to migrate to Fibre Channel technology from NAS or iSCSI as their storage requirements increase without buying a new system.

"This is an opportunity to complete the picture for NetApp," says Sajai Krishnan, general manager of StoreVault, referring to the S500 as a complementary puzzle piece to the company's existing enterprise and mid-market product families.

Krishnan says the S500 is strictly a channel product, which makes sense since the majority of SMB customers buy their IT gear, storage, etc., from value-added resellers (VARs) and small systems integrators. "This is a VAR-only play. Network Appliance sales will not carry the S500, and there will be no direct marketing or sales through our Website," says Krishnan.

"A level of operational engagement already exists between VARs and SMB generalists," Krishnan continues. "They need help and counsel in terms of how to take care of their data. In going through the channel we're making sure SMBs have someone to help them install and manage their systems."

NetApp is positioning the StoreVault S500 as having more connectivity options and better backup technology at a lower price point than other popular SMB SAN and NAS products such as Hewlett-Packard's MSA 1510 and ProLiant DL100, EMC's AX150, Adaptec's SnapServer 520, and Dell's PowerEdge 2900.

But according to Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO, an IT infrastructure consulting firm, comparing NAS and SAN devices on a price-performance basis does not necessarily qualify as an apples-to-apples comparison.

"When you look at what you get for $5,000, including the 1TB raw storage plus snapshots, iSCSI, and NAS with future Fibre Channel and replication, I would have to say that's a price performer, but keep in mind that HP's MSA and EMC's AX150 are block-based storage solutions and Adaptec's SnapServer is best known as a NAS box," says Schulz. "It depends on how you look at it and compare."

Schulz does say, however, that in the new and growing category of multi-function storage systems for the SMB space, NetApp is on the right track and that he expects more storage vendors to show up in the same market. He also expects NetApp to add more features to the S500 family for SMBs, including remote mirroring and replication.

Can Network Appliance make a splash with smaller customers?

"The trick will be to get mindshare of VARs and resellers downstream to offer the NetApp S500 versus other products, and to do that NetApp needs to make sure the technology is easy to buy, install, use, and upgrade while being affordable and that the resellers can make money," says Schulz.

NetApp's Krishnan claims that one of the S500's advantages over competing systems for SMBs is its operating system. The S500 runs the Data ONTAP operating system, which runs across all of NetApp's enterprise and midrange products. Data ONTAP can be accessed through the StoreVault Manager, a Windows-based GUI included with the S500 for storage management.

When it comes to data protection the S500 takes advantage of the snapshot capabilities of Data ONTAP to provide 250 snapshot images for frequent data backups and uses NetApp's SnapRestore tool for data recovery.

StoreVault S500 is priced from approximately $5,000 for a 1TB configuration with support for NAS, iSCSI, or Fibre Channel connections and up to 250 snapshots.

This article was originally published on July 06, 2006