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EMC, Dell and Brocade enjoy ménage à SAN

AX100 equals cheap, quick gains

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EMC and Brocade took the SAN-in-a-can concept to a whole new level this week.

With the introduction of the EMC/Dell AX100, small- to medium-sized businesses have gained one of the cheapest routes to building a storage area network (SAN). The system, which starts under $6,000, can be connected to an 8-port Brocade Silkworm 3250 Fibre Channel switch, which gives users a chance to link numerous servers in a basic or high-availability SAN setup.

AX100 connected to serversEMC and Brocade have done a couple things right with their hardware pairing. For one, they are attacking the right market at the right time. It has taken years for SANs to trickle down from large companies to smaller firms. But now SMBs are most certainly looking to move away from direct attached to networked storage. The AX100/Silkworm combination gives SMBs a chance to build a fairly sophisticated SAN at a relatively low cost.

This, of course, comes with some trade-offs.

For one, the AX100 uses 12 Serial ATA drives. The SATA drives bring down the overall cost of the system, but they mean that customers will sacrifice a bit of reliability for the cost-reduction. This may or may not be an issue for an SMB, depending on what type of data they plan to use the SAN for.

AX100 in high availability configurationSecondly, EMC is shipping the new kit with a kind of dumbed down management package instead of its Navisphere Management Suite that runs on other Clariion systems. The "wizard-based" package on the AX100 should make life easier on SMB customers in the short term. However, administrators will have to adjust to new management software should their company decided to upgrade up the Clariion line.

This same scenario applies to the hardware. Customers can connect multiple AX100s together to create more capacity, but they cannot connect an AX100 with a true Clariion box.

In total, SMBs should be able to purchase a SAN, including the storage system, switch and HBAs (Emulex and QLogic are supported) for a few thousand dollars. Spend a bit more on a dual controller configuration, and you can have a high-availability SAN out of the box.

But, be aware that the EMC/Dell/Brocade bundle has its limitations. The AX100 is kind of like SAN training wheels or a way to fill an immediate gap. It's not really the answer for a long-term SAN plan. ®

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