What's in store for Aussie SMBs from the vendors who have recently turned their resources to targeting this gap in the market?
While introducing Dell's low-end iSCSI based MD3000i SAN in September, CEO, Michael Dell, criticised larger vendors for not tailoring their storage products for smaller, less skilled customers. Yet, in fact, storage and system vendors are trying to bring storage to the masses. AMI Partners research released this year found spending on SMB storage across the Asia-Pacific hit $US2.4 billion in 2006. In Australia, users spent $US411 million, 17 per cent more than in 2005. That figure is tipped to ramp up another 11 per cent this year, AMI Partners said.
"$US321 spending was from small businesses," the US-headquartered analyst firm said in its report, 2006-2007 APAC SMB Storage Market Summary. The years 2005-2010 are expected to record compound annual growth of 21 per cent as even small companies play increasingly online and with sophisticated business computing - meaning they need more places and ways to store and manage data.
AMI Partners found PC-attached storage is dominant but SAN is being adopted fastest, at 102 per cent across the Asia-Pacific last year. IP SAN alone registered 65 per cent growth. SMB storage drivers included fears about data security, data and user volumes and data management. Deployment of ERP and CRM applications and legal compliance issues add to small company woes.
"Australian SMBs will favour IP SAN over fibre channel SAN due to its lower price and the attractiveness of using a single networking technology," AMI Partners wrote. "SMBs are looking at products and services that will provide strategic value to their businesses and can scale up as their businesses grow."
SMB is where many vendors are now concentrating their not-inconsiderable resources. IBM storage business unit executive, Francois Vazille, said it had been working to make its products friendlier to companies with up to 500 staff.
"SMBs do have unique requirements but share many of the fundamentals of larger customers," he said. "SMBs shouldn't have to compromise on functionality, reliability or services."
Small companies might worry less about the cost of managing their storage but they still want robust backup and recovery, scalability, good regulatory compliance, business continuity and the like, Vazille said.
According to Vazille, SMBs have started investigating SAN but often found the technology too expensive: finally, SAN prices had started to come down.
At the same time, SMBs need to do something different from internal disk. IBM's DS3000 range, released late last year, is a possible entry point for such smaller companies, he said.
The rack-mount IBM System Storage DS3200 features a 3Gbps Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) interface for up to 3.6TB of storage, using 300GB hot-swappable SAS disks, and can be managed with the DS3000 Storage Manager. Users can expand it by attaching up to three EXP3000s, giving a total maximum 14.4TB of capacity. DS3200 Express configurations for SMBs are available, Vazille said, bundling in IBM SAS HBA Controllers and SAS cables, as well as a fibre channel 4Gbps version that works with IBM System x and BladeCenter servers.
IBM's TotalStorage disk products come in various sizes and the TS3310 Tape Library can be scaled up from an entry-level single 5U base and one or two drive configurations with storage for 36 tape cartridges. "A lot of SMBs are still backing up on tape," Vazille said. A central management console can be added to streamline all customer storage needs as their companies grow. SAN has become much more affordable, he said.
"Two years ago, you would buy a SAN for about $30,000. Today, if you configure it, you're looking at a $10,000-$12,000 starting point," Vazille said.
He saw a chance for resellers in the SMB storage software space, giving customers the ability to understand what was happening in their data environments. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) senior marketing manager, Tim Smith, agreed managing the information is the main issue.
With those factors in mind, HDS recently introduced the 1-9TB Simple Modular Storage (SMS) 100, advertised as bringing consumer levels of simplicity to data storage. It integrates with Windows and Symantec Backup Exec and has a wizard-based GUI setup and auto-configuration. Snap or full copies, remote replication and disaster recovery are done from an icon based management console. The SMS 100 starts at $6000.