It’s never been a better time to be in the market for enterprise storage products, with many excellent options available at affordable prices. But the market can be confusing for the uninitiated, with a variety of network options and capabilities. Even those of us “in the know” about enterprise storage are sometimes surprised by the offerings and companies in this space! So when Jerome Wendt from DCIG approached me to collect data for a market overview and buyer’s guide, I was excited. It was my big chance to really get to know these products!
Dividing the Storage Market
An enterprise storage array is a strategic investment, with prices often reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there are smaller arrays as well, and these aren’t just stripped-down cheapies: Midrange storage arrays are emerging as serious challengers for the high-end enterprise arrays, and even the small array segment is improving. Long the home of simple RAID systems, small enterprise storage arrays are now full-featured systems with advanced integration and features.
This is the segment of the storage market I was eager to take a look at: The small-enterprise arrays, ranging in price from $5,000 to $30,000 and capacity from a few terabytes to over one hundred (with expansion shelves). To keep it sensible, I eliminated systems with less than 8 hard disk drives (since they really couldn’t deliver the IOPS needed for a production application) and those that can’t be shared using storage networking protocols like iSCSI, Fibre Channel, or NAS. This left a great cross-section, including small systems from big players like EMC, NetApp, Dell, and HP as well as smaller companies like Drobo, Aberdeen, StoneFly, and Promise.
Little Systems With Big Capabilities
Gathering data for this buyer’s guide entailed creating a master list of all the features any of the systems might have and then filling in the blanks with vendor input and public information. Although I felt that my list of questions was comprehensive, I was amazed to find that the available systems exceeded even my expectations. For example, I was surprised to see 10 GbE support in more than 1/3 of the arrays I looked at, yet only 1/4 of them included NAS protocols. Amazingly, every NAS system also supported iSCSI, meaning unified storage dominates the SME array market!
DCIG likes to rank the systems listed in their buyer’s guides, so it was left to me to come up with weights and scores. I decided to score each feature on a 1 to 5 scale based on my own expectations: A feature I was surprised by (more than 4 GB of cache, for example) got a 5 while one that was conspicuously absent (scalability beyond internal drives) got a 1. An average system would get all 3’s, but there really were no average systems!
I then weighted the features based on how relevant they are to small enterprise IT. Features like scalability (drives), data protection (RAID 6), and reliability (redundant power supplies and dual controllers) received more weight than less-critical things like ROHS compliance and even multi-pathing.
After all this work, we boiled down the scores to categories (controller, capacity, support, etc) and finally a single overall score. I was surprised at the results, really. I hadn’t spent much time with Aberdeen or StoneFly prior to this experience, but came away impressed by their products. The strong showing of EMC’s new VNXe and NetApp’s FAS2020 was as I had expected, but the D-Link DSN-5110, Dell’s PowerVault MD3200i, HP’s P2000, and the Promise and Winchester arrays caught me off-guard. These really-capable systems at low prices and should be on buyers’ short-lists!
I tried to put myself in the place of the buyer evaluating these systems, but of course every buyer will have his own priorities. Perhaps in the future we will make the raw data available so they can make their own ranking and determine which array works best for them. I will work with DCIG to make this happen, since the feature-focused rankings used this time aren’t right for everyone.
I have been working on this guide for almost a year now, and think the finished product really shines. I hope it will help buyers come up with a list of products to consider, and also that it helps the smaller vendors get some attention in this crowded space. Due to their strong showing, Aberdeen has licensed the guide and made it available for free (after registration) on their web site.
Note that Aberdeen did not “sponsor” the creation of the guide: DCIG paid Foskett Services to create it with no sponsor in mind, I alone gathered the data, and our ranking and editing was finished before Aberdeen or any other vendor got involved financially. No one was more surprised than me by the strong showing of their AberSAN storage system, though the fact that it features Nexenta’s excellent software piqued my interest. Some have criticized DCIG’s guides and methodology in the past, but I personally stand behind this effort. I will happily answer any questions – just leave a comment here!