Dell, Microsoft Hook Up to Offer New Storage for SMBs

Big-name IT suppliers see major opportunity in $30 billion storage market by joining forces to provide high-function, moderate-price systems for midtier market.

Dell and Microsoft, not well-known for data storage products, indicated Dec. 6 that they want to improve their market share in that sector and seriously compete in the $30 billion market that is currently led by Hewlett Packard, EMC, NetApp and IBM.

In a joint announcement at the Storage Decisions conference in Las Vegas, the two longtime PC partners introduced a new unified, networked storage server system for file and application data. The system delivers "enterprise-class manageability, versatility, and performance for businesses of all sizes," a Dell spokesperson said.

The Dell PowerVault NX1950 with Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 represents a different concept for the two companies in that it eliminates separate licensing for additional features and protocols, such as snapshots, replication and resource management, making the system far more economically attractive to SMBs (small and midsize businesses).

Dell, which has seen its PC sales level off in recent months, is looking at the storage server hardware business—and the enterprise server business in general—to help shore up its bottom line. Microsoft has been channeling its storage server software to HP, Dell and other companies for the last four years and also says it wants to carve out a larger piece of the quickly growing storage market.

The combination of Microsoft and Dell has the ingredients to be "extremely successful" in the storage business, Tony Asaro, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, told eWEEK.

"The key will be to get the message across loud and clear. Storage networking is a specialized area of expertise, and that is partially why small companies have been reluctant to implement," Asaro said.

"However, these companies have Windows and IP experts. That is why this combination is valuable. If you are a Windows expert you will be in familiar territory. If you are an IP expert you will be in familiar territory. Naturally, being two brand names with lots of reach makes a difference, too."

Dell and Microsofts first major storage offering, the PowerVault NX1950, includes single or two-node cluster configurations featuring a redundant SAS-based back-end storage array scaling up to 45 drives. It runs Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003, which is Microsofts newest storage platform.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Dells portable storage disk drive for SMBs.

Storage Server 2003 provides an advanced file server and iSCSI SAN (storage area network) capabilities, as well as unified management tools for easy deployment and maintenance, according to the company.

"Customers want more powerful storage solutions to meet increasingly challenging business demands, yet networked storage technologies are still complex and costly," said Gabriel Broner, general manager of storage at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

"This [PowerVault NX1950] is a significant step for Microsofts Universal Distributed Storage strategy of delivering enterprise storage capabilities to a broader market."

Dave DuPont, senior vice president of marketing and business development at iSCSI and Fibre Channel appliance maker Sanrad, in San Mateo, Calif., told eWEEK: "Microsoft is now beginning to encroach into the low end of the NAS/iSCSI space, to the surprise of nobody. This is not unexpected news.

"With this Unified Data Storage Server, theyre going to cut in on the business of companies like NetApp, for example, and EqualLogic. And itll be hard for those independent vendors to continue to differentiate themselves, because these products are all very similar.

"However, Microsofts presence in the market will actually help some companies at the high [enterprise] end, because they will help legitimize the use of iSCSI SANs in the data center."

Key features of the PowerVault NX1950 with Microsoft Windows Unified Storage Server 2003, according to Dell and Microsoft:

  • Versatility: unified iSCSI block and file storage services; can be used to store files and blocks of application data
  • Interoperability: operates seamlessly in CIFS (Windows) and NFS (Linux, UNIX, and Macintosh) environments; supports security and mapping functions familiar to Windows and UNIX administrators alike
  • Availability: redundant architecture; multinode cluster configurations; file- and block-level snapshots, local and remote replication
  • Manageability: advanced Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 capabilities, such as single-instance storage; full indexed text search; distributed file services; and management of user quotas, file screening, and storage reports
  • Simplicity: unified management providing automated setup and streamlined provisioning; simplified and remote management of volumes, shares and iSCSI targets
  • A standards-based platform that supports a host of third-party applications, including anti-virus and backup software

The system is priced from about $17,000 and is available now. Configurations with 4.5TB start at less than $24,000. Additional features, such as clustering and drive expansion, along with SAN Gateway capabilities, will be available in the first half of 2007.

Next Page: PowerVault MD3000 aimed at cluster applications.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...