Midrange storage market booming

In the midst of continued corporate IT belt-tightening, storage vendors are fighting one another over sales in the burgeoning midrange market as users look for small but powerful disk arrays that can centralize their storage and scale across distributed networks.

EMC Corp., Network Appliance Inc., Hitachi Data Systems Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. are all experiencing sales upticks from the midmarket, according to a report issued last month by Clinton Vaughan, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc. in New York.

As a result of the shift in demand, vendors such as EMC and Hitachi are rushing to pump up the performance of their “modular” midrange products and scale down their high-end arrays to better fit the needs of departments and midmarket companies.

For example, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hitachi plans to introduce later this year a new storage array that will use its high-end Lightning 9900 V Series architecture but will be targeted at the midmarket. The device will offer higher performance than the Thunder 9200 array, a scaled-down version of Hitachi’s Freedom Storage Lightning 9900 box, which was released last year.

EMC last month added a CX600 model to its Clariion midrange product line that targets the upper levels of the midmarket and departmental sector. The Hopkinton, Mass.-based company also plans to build a scaled-down version of its high-end Symmetrix array that will be positioned above the CX600, executives said.

Because of software advances on midrange devices, IT managers “can achieve a heck of a lot of performance from a modular system at a much better price” than they would pay for high-end arrays, said Arun Taneja, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

Lev Gonick, CIO at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, is using EMC’s CX600 to upgrade from direct-attached PC storage for storing digital images and research data that the school shares with other academic and cultural institutions in the city.

Gonick considered a high-end array but last month chose to install two CX600s. The arrays are part of a 5TB storage-area network that cost US$1.2 million but will let Case Western reduce its storage administration staff from 20 full-time employees to three, he said.

“We now have a sweet spot in price/performance for the core speeds and feeds we’re after,” he said. “But perhaps more importantly, it was our estimation that we’ve got, for the first time ever, intelligent software . . . which many of us have been waiting for.”

Bob Schultz, vice president of marketing solutions for network storage at HP, said his company has been hawking modular arrays for four years and is seeing greater traction in that market. “We see customers who previously were buying monolithic storage moving to a modular architecture,” he said.