Iomega is well into its second coming as EMC’s entry-level storage division. First, they applied EMC’s compact and full-featured LifeLine home storage software to existing gear, giving birth to the Home Media Network Hard Drive, StorCenter ix2, and StorCenter Pro ix4-100. Then they wooed the small-business community with the rack-mount StorCenter ix4-200r, adding iSCSI target support and VMware compatibility.
Today, they are back with the new ix4-200d, probably Iomega’s best product yet. It includes every feature of the rack-mount ix4-200r, including NAS and iSCSI target mode plus great new stuff like one-touch synchronization. All of this is packaged in a Drobo-like desktop system with a starting list price of just $700, or less than half the cost of a comparable ix4-200r!
External desktop storage products, exemplified by Western Digital’s wildly successful My Book series, have been a huge retail hit. Priced just over $100, these drives pack a terabyte or more and offer plug and play simplicity. I recently visited a small business with a WD or Seagate USB enclosure on every single desk. I’ve purchased five USB- or FireWire-connected hard drives myself over the last two years!
But these single-drive desktop wonders are a disaster waiting to happen:
- They fail frequently (like my Maxtor 3200), instantly wiping out the data they contained
- They are targets for thieves, so data loss prevention (DLP) experts warn against their use
- They aren’t shareable natively, so most people resort to sneakernet swapping rather than fight with Windows to present them as a network share
- When they’re full, they’re full, forcing the purchase of a whole new drive
Many vendors sell grown-up versions that address some or all of these concerns with multiple drives, network connections, and encryption, but these have been slow to catch on. Since they contain redundant drives and extra hardware and software, they are much more expensive than their little cousins. Iomega has done battle in this arena with their original StorCenter ix2 and the ix4-100, but these have yet to catch on. Even Drobo, with their fanatical user-friendly focus, has failed to convince many buyers.
Then there is the world of business storage. Way down at the bottom of the enterprise storage pyramid lies the realm of small 4- and 8-drive storage arrays. These SMB storage arrays offer a lot of capacity and reliability for the money but very little in the way of features. Iomega’s StorCenter Pro ix4-200r, in contrast, wowed the techies with a full iSCSI target stack that was certified for VMware ESX. But the price, over $1500, definitely limited sales to the home hobbyist.
“Just Right” Storage
Although the name is similar to the StorCenter Pro ix4-200r launched this Spring, Iomega went back to the drawing board for the ix4-200d. They built an entirely new device that could offer the impressive features of their StorCenter Pro line at a price closer to consumer storage offerings. The result boasts everything the Pro has and more at less than half the price:
- You want connectivity? The ix4 sports dual gigabit Ethernet ports that can be teamed up for performance or split off for redundancy.
- You want NAS? The ix4 supports NFS, SMB, and even Apple’s AFP, plus it’s Active Directory compatible.
- How about iSCSI? It’s a full-featured iSCSI target, certified for Microsoft Server 2003 and 2008.
- Want to host virtual machines? The ix4 is certified with VMware ESX 4 vSphere using both NFS and iSCSI, on the Xen HCL, and that Microsoft logo means it will work with Hyper-V as well.
- Need backup? The ix4 comes with EMC’s Retrospect and supports OS X Time Machine over AFP just like an Apple Time Capsule.
- Looking for weird features? How about support for up to 5 Axis network cameras, BlueTooth Picture Transfer Protocol, and UPnP/DLNA media service!
- Iomega also added a new feature, QuickTransfer, to synchronize files between devices.
This is one seriously feature-rich storage system. In fact, this glut of features is the ix4’s Achilles heel: How do you effectively communicate the value of a device that does so much? Most of the buying public has never heard of most of these features, so the price remains hard for some to justify.
Another hurdle for the ix4 is Iomega’s decision to fill it with hard drives. One cannot buy an empty ix4-200d, and both the 2 TB and 4 TB configurations come loaded with four hard disk drives. This raises the price of entry and scares off the very techies who might be interested in the device. The majority of Drobos are purchased with no drives at all, and storage geeks like me love the idea that disks can be added as-needed in the future. Although Iomega is open to users swapping out the drives in their own StorCenter device, this is not its intended use case. Iomega’s decision to sell the ix4-200d as a loaded appliance seems counter to the price sensitivity and flexibility needs of buyers.
QuickTransfer: Data Synchronization for Everything
One nifty new feature included with the ix4-200d is QuickTransfer, a one-touch data synchronization capability. Leveraging rsync technology, but hiding this complexity with a more-friendly wizard-based GUI, QuickTransfer allows users to set up synchronization jobs between the ix4 and a variety of targets:
- USB drives can be plugged into one of the three USB 2.0 ports and synchronized with a subset of the content of the ix4. For example, a portable USB drive could be “recharged” with the latest set of data before one heads out of the office.
- Two Iomega ix4’s, or other NAS systems for that matter, can be synchronized over the Ethernet/IP LAN. This would provide a robust and bandwidth-friendly remote office backup or data replication solution.
- A PC or Mac can also be synchronized over a network share, providing a simple alternative to the bundled backup software.
QuickTransfer is exclusive to the ix4-200d for now, but Iomega assured me that it would be included in future StorCenter products and added to the StorCenter Pro ix4-200r in the near future. It is unknown if or when other existing StorCenter devices will get QuickTransfer, however.
Iomega’s Next Move
What will Iomega do next? They must be ready to announce their vSphere 4 and Microsoft Windows Server certification soon, since both company’s web sites already list the device in their compatibility lists. Iomega ought to try to take advantage of the interest among VMware users with a big VMworld splash. They will be there, but it is awfully hard to get noticed at such a large event. I am looking forward to the event to get a hands-on test.
The ix4 should begin showing up for sale at online stores very quickly. Amazon listed the rackmount product within days of its release, and we expect the same this time. But will Iomega offer this cheaper device in retail stores? It would be great to have it available at Staples and Best Buy, but shelf space for a storage system this expensive would be hard to get. Instead, expect it at specialty outlets like Fry’s and perhaps Micro Center.
How much does the StorCenter ix4-200d cost?
- The 2 TB model (SKU# 34546 with four 500 GB drives) lists at $699.99
- The 4 TB model (SKU# 34549 with four 1 TB drives) lists at $899.99
- The 8 TB model (SKU# 34563 with four 2 TB drives) lists at $1,899.99
It also seems likely that the 2-bay product is up for a refresh in the near future. The ix2 can’t be said to be very attractive, so hopefully the company will do something about this with the next-generation product. It is unclear whether the inexpensive 2-bay device will get iSCSI support, but I suspect it will. Beyond this, might Iomega move further upmarket with an 8-drive unit? We shall see!