Virtual appliance lets users convert DAS to iSCSI SAN

NetApp is continuing a push down-market with the release of the S300, the latest SMB iSCSI SAN in its StoreVault line.

NetApp's StoreVault division has just added a new iSCSI storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) box to its product line, the StoreVault S300, with a starting price of US$3,000.

The S300 is a smaller version of the first StoreVault box, the S500. The major differences are the S500 scales to 6 TB and supports Fibre Channel along with iSCSI and CIFS or NFS. The S300 scales to 4 TB and offers no Fibre Channel option. The S500 also has a higher starting list price than the S300 at US$5,535. Both StorVault models run a scaled-down version of NetApp's OnTap operating system, which includes data protection features such as snapshots and asynchronous replication.

According to Sajai Krishnan, general manager of the small and medium-sized business (SMB) unit at NetApp, the StoreVault boxes contain fewer feature options than NetApp's enterprise filers. For example, the S500 and S300 allow asynchronous replication only, while enterprise filers allow for multiple flavors of asynchronous and synchronous replication. The StoreVault products also run StoreVault Manager, a layer of software that adds setup wizards and other features for less-expert storage users.

Daniel Covell, owner of Covell Consulting, manages IT for several SMB clients. He said that the chief benefits to StoreVault so far are the support from a big organisation, like NetApp, and price.

"I've worked with other [low-end] systems where I've had a lot of iSCSI connectivity errors and support doesn't really follow up," he said. "StoreVault support has been very responsive." At the same time, he said, StoreVault boxes haven't given him many issues. "The only time I've had to reboot the S500 in the last 120 days was when I had to power it down to move some cables around in the rack," he said.

Covell has been beta testing the S300 for storing clients' data as he begins offering application hosting services in addition to IT management services. There, cost will be a key factor, which will make the lower price tag on the S300 welcome. He said the list price on the bigger S500 usually jumps to around US$13,000 when more features are added. The S3000 will often cost more than the base system, too, but is still less than the S500. "I'm seeing the S300 at around US$7,000 street price," he said. "For some of my customers, buying a new server for US$2,000 is a huge expense -- I need to be able to offer a wide variety of cost options for them."

The price tag on the S300 also has Covell considering using it to replace Windows file servers in some instances. "Depending on the server, the S300 could be cheaper than buying the server hardware, OS license and disk separately," he said. "You don't have to deal with some of the maintenance that comes with servers, things like OS patches and antivirus software, so the management overhead could be lower, as well."

For now, Covell said his only quibble is with the setup wizards in StoreVault manager. ISCSI connectivity for servers is easy to set up the first time around through a wisard, he said, but adding new ones later manually is sometimes a trickier proposition. "If I'm not connected to the network yet, but I have the initiator name, I'd like to have StoreVault be able to see it as soon as I power the server up," he said. "It would be just one less step I'd have to go through for setup."

NetApp is hoping the continuity of features between the small models and bigger systems will boost its sales at the low end of the market. "NetApp doesn't just take a watered-down product and slap a badge on it," Krishnan said. StoreVault is also being marketed to NetApp's existing enterprise customer base as storage for remote and branch offices; its replication will work with any of the larger filers in NetApp's product line.

One enterprise user, director of operations for a large Midwestern application service provider, who asked that neither he nor his company be named, said his company has several S500s in remote offices or set up for project work. "The interface isn't quite the same [as NetApp's larger systems], but it's very cost effective for smaller projects that don't need all the extra bells and whistles," he said. The company uses it primarily in smaller data processing centres where both Windows and Linux hosts need to connect to cheaper storage because the box can connect using both CIFS and NFS, a rarity in the SMB market. However, this user said the S300 is probably too small for his purposes.

NetApp began a new campaign to push its products lower in the market following a US$61 million revenue shortfall in the second quarter of this year that in part was blamed on slowing high-end sales. "It's not like we haven't been selling midsize products at all, it just hasn't been a focus for us," said Tom Georgens, executive vice president of product operations, at the release of the FAS2000, the long-overdue replacement for NetApp's midrange FAS200 products. NetApp is working on new incentives for its channel, including a bundled pricing program for software features, he added.

Analysts remain sceptical about the strength of NetApp's channel in the SMB space, however. "StoreVault hasn't exactly been hitting the ball out of the park," said Janet Waxman, vice president and channel analyst for IDC. NetApp is a big player in the enterprise storage market, but it's overshadowed by bigger names in the low-end market like Dell and HP. StoreVault is run as a completely separate business unit, and the StoreVault brand doesn't carry NetApp's name recognition.

"They're ramping, but slowly," according to Waxman, but she added, "Coming out with an iSCSI-only version of StoreVault might lay the seeds for broader efforts."

NetApp isn't the only storage vendor to take a new swing at the SMB market. Hitachi came out with a new line of SMB systems earlier this month, and EMC CEO Joe Tucci said last week that EMC will soon launch a new SMB system.

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