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The AX4-5 was developed in partnership with EMC, with both vendors helping to design and develop the product.  EMC also launched its own branded product – the CLARiiON AX4 – at the same time.  Eric Cannell, product line manager at Dell, said the partnership brought the product to market to address an area its MD3000i and its competitors didn’t penetrate. 

"The AX4-5 hits the ‘Ms’ in SMB, while the MD3000i is more appropriate for smaller, more traditional SMB customers who are consolidating their data into storage from just a couple servers," Cannell said. He added that the two products addressed different market segments because Dell didn’t want to just strip down enterprise technology for SMBs, a factor that can speed up commoditization.

Cannell said that Dell, like its competitors IBM and HP, is targeting the SMB market because of the growth potential in the space. He said that while IBM has a very broad storage line including its DS3400 series line for small business, and HP is also going after the market with products such as its StorageWorks MSA 1000 SAN, he claimed neither has a product that is targeted specifically for the midmarket like the AX4-5.

"This product is great for larger SMB customers who are more tech savvy and also for branch office environments of larger organizations looking to consolidate storage," he said.

David Tan, CTO of CHIPS Computer Consulting, said his company was still evaluating Dell’s storage products, but said he thought they would compete well with offerings from IBM and HP.

Tan said his company already has a very strong relationship with Network Appliance’s SMB arm, StoreVault, but that the AX4-5 might be a good fit for customers that Network Appliance couldn’t penetrate. 

"The issue with StoreVault is it maxes out at six terabytes, at which point customers need to jump to a full NetApp product which is a large jump in price.  That middle ground is where the Dell [product] might work for us," Tan said.

One sticking point for Tan, however, is price. "To tell you the truth, I don’t consider it a true SMB solution," he said, because  the array is priced at around $15,000.