Hardware Today: The Wide Array of Disk Arrays

The disk array market is a mature space that continues to thrive. In the first quarter of 2006, worldwide external disk storage systems revenue grew 10.3 percent from the previous year to $4.2 billion.

EMC, HP, and IBM may account for more than 50 percent of the disk array market, but they are aren't the only show in town. Dell, HDS, and a host of smaller players fill the other half.

"Customers continue to increase their reliance on business data and seek cost-effective ways to store, protect, and manage this critical data," says IDC analyst Brad Nisbet. "Despite the server market being down nearly 2 percent in the first quarter of 2006, the comparable growth of external disk systems points to the importance of storage in helping customers improve overall business efficiency."

EMC lead in the disk array space for many years, but the competition isn't far behind. EMC has 21.8 percent revenue share, followed by HP (with 17.9 percent) and IBM (with 12 percent). Although EMC's portfolio covers the entire array spectrum, the company is particularly strong at the high end — systems priced from $500,000 and over. And that's where the real growth is currently.

"The high-end segment showed the strongest year-over-year growth of nearly 40 percent," says IDC analyst Natalya Yezhkova. "Although data protection, digital content, and other emerging data-intensive applications are driving market growth mainly for midrange systems, demand for highly scalable primary storage also remains strong, indicating the ongoing consolidation within corporate data centers."

At the upper end, the EMC Symmetrix DMX-3 Series scales from 7 TB to more than 1 PB of capacity. According to Barbara Robidoux, vice president of platform marketing at EMC, the DMX-3's direct matrix architecture delivers the industry's highest levels of performance, availability, and scalability. It can simultaneously support all major operating system environments, including mainframe and IBM System i (the former AS/400). Enterprises can also mix and match various sizes and types of disk drives. The DMX-3 Series is priced from approximately $250,000.

In the mid-market segment, the EMC CLARiiON CX3 UltraScale Series scales from 365 GB to 239 TB. It incorporates 4 Gb/s technology and comes with a full suite of management and protection software. In addition to EMC, Dell and Fujitsu Siemens sell the CLARiiON CX3 UltraScale Series under the Dell/EMC and FibreCat brands, respectively. It is priced from $27,000.

For small and midsize businesses, the EMC CLARiiON AX150 scales from 750 GB to 6TB of capacity. In addition to being sold by EMC and Dell, it is available from Intel as the Intel SSR212PP Storage system. Prices start at $5,600.

"The CLARiiON AX150 can be self-installed and configured to support multiple servers in less than 30 minutes," says Robidoux. "An iSCSI version is also available known as the AX150i."

Beyond the Big Three

EMC may be king, but HP and IBM aren't far behind. Together, they account for more than 50 percent of the market. However, they are far from the only show in town. Dell, for example, posted a 54.2 percent growth rate in 2005, enough to surpass Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and narrowly nab the third-place spot with an 8.2 percent market share (compared to Hitachi's 8.1 percent).

Dell offers low-end SAN hardware, co-branded with EMC. It also has its own arrays, including the PowerVault MD 1000. These, however, do not directly compete with the others in terms of full-featured, high-end storage.

Dell describes its disk storage enclosure as just-a-bunch-of-disks (JBOD) that connect to a host-based RAID controller located inside a server.

Other vendors, however, take the opposite approach, opting for services rather than commodity pricing. This tendency may be taking this traditionally hardware-focused field more in the direction of software and management as a value add.

"Nobody is going to be a performance leader forever, and hardware is not a differentiator any more," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. "EMC and Network Appliance are going into professional services to differentiate themselves."

Similarly, HDS promotes its updated Hi Command Storage Services Manager Software as a way to better manage sprawling storage environments in conjunction with its TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform, which is positioned for robust and high-performance SANs. But instead of closely defined segments for each model and market, the company prefers a mix-and-match approach.

"The disk array market is converging into a single entity," says Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist at Hitachi Data Systems. "Enterprise and Modular used to be defined as Fortune 1000 and Midrange, respectively. Now, each group will have a mix of both classes of storage to match their application-specific needs and help them efficiently manage their storage resources."

SANs, he says, used to be limited to high-end deployments. But falling Fibre Channel (FC) prices coupled with the rise of iSCSI have brought disk arrays onto the radar screen of much smaller organizations.

New Faces

The disk array marketplace could be in for a further shakeup as more and more newcomers arrive on the scene. According to IDC, a multitude of companies beyond the top-five account for more than 32 percent of the market.

BlueArc Corp, of San Jose, Calif., is using high performance to gain a foothold in the highly competitive disk array space. Its Titan 2000 Series is a modular, bladed network storage architecture. It delivers nearly 100,000 SPECsfs ops/sec and 10 Gbps throughput. Pricing starts at around $100,000.

"The Titan 2000 Series is the first storage solution that consolidates and manages up to 512 TB of data into a single storage pool," says Mike Gustafson CEO of BlueArc. "It supports a Cluster Name Space for a unified directory and global access to data for CIFS and NFS clients through any node in the cluster."

The S2A9500 Storage Solution, from DataDirect Networks of Chatsworth, Calif., also places a high value on performance. It is a RAID storage networking system that has up to eight FC-4 and Infiniband host side connections.

"The S2A9500 supports over one thousand SATA and FC disk drives through its 20 high-speed disk-side ports," says Mike Abshire, a sales manager at DataDirect. "It is capable of sustaining up to 3 GB/s and holding up to 480 TB of storage."

According to Abshire, the S2A9500 is priced around $2,000 per TB for SATA drives. This amount can increase, though, based on the use of FC and other advanced features.

Hip, Hip, Array

To keep up with the explosion of data storage, organizations are increasingly looking to storage arrays. But it is not just data growth driving array adoption. Technology maturation means prices have dropped, making them affordable for even small agencies or branch offices whose needs are bigger than their budgets.

As these trends continue, simply being able to afford enough disk space is becoming less of an issue. Now organizations can focus on higher-level features, such as service, reliability, and manageability.

"There are less and less differentiators in terms of technology," says Karp. "The local service guy who is much better than the competition could be a big differentiator."

This article was originally published on Jun 26, 2006
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