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It’s hard to think of normally heavy-duty data storage servers as something like “storage lite,” but IBM is giving it a serious go.

Big Blue introduced a new entry-level storage product Aug. 8—System Storage DS4200 Express—designed to compete for SMB customers against similar offerings from EMC, NetApp, and Hewlett-Packard.

System Storage DS4200 Express is aimed at businesses with 99 to 1,000 employees and has many of the features in IBM’s high-end DS4800 product, which retails for $44,000 and up. But it also is slower and offers less capacity in order to keep the price down.

The IBM System Storage DS4200 Express Model 7V (2GB Cache, 1GB per controller) has a starting price of $11,474, an IBM spokesperson said.

It stores data on 500MB SATA (Serial ATA) drives and can scale from 2 to 112 drives for a range of 1TB to 56TB of total storage.

IBM will market the system against EMC’s Clariion AX150 and HP’s StorageWorks 1000 Modular Smart Array and MSA 1500cs, in addition to products from NetApp and CA.

Storage industry analyst Dianne McAdam of The Clipper Group in Wellesley, Mass., told eWEEK that IBM was being more “aggressive” than “revolutionary” with the new product.

“IBM is going after the SMB market by pricing these new storage subsystems very aggressively,” McAdam said.

“So you can get a dual controller (that is, two controllers within one chassis) for about $11,000, and the chassis can include up to 16 500-GB SATA drives.”

Customers can also get features like Volume Copy (which creates a physical copy of a volume on the same controller) and MetroMirror (which will copy a volume to a second controller), McAdam said.

“These features are available on the larger DS4000 storage systems. So one can put a DS4200 in a remote office and mirror a volume back to a larger DS4000 controller in a main data center,” she added.

Customers for these new, scaled-down storage products can start with a small configuration and add expansion units to grow the capacity of the initial system, McAdam said.

But a system like this—even though simpler than the high-end ones—still has its challenges to install and use, McAdam said.

“One of the challenges that disk vendors have is that if you put different disk drives on the same internal loop within a controller, then the loop talks to all of the disk drives at the same speed,” McAdam said.

“So, for example, if I put Fibre Channel disks which can talk at 4 Gbps and SATA drives which can talk at 1 Gbps on the same loop, then the loop talks to all disk drives at 1 Gbps. They call this arbitration.”

IBM has developed an emulation for SATA drives that allows SATA drives to emulate Fibre Channel drives, McAdam said, so when users intermix Fibre Channel and SATA (with FC emulation) on the same loop, the loop can talk at the higher rate of speed.

“I am not aware of any other vendor doing this,” McAdam said.

HP said recently that it will be expanding its SMB storage catalog with a bevy of new storage products and services expressly aimed at that market. A new system it plans on rolling out in September will offer 1TB of storage for about $5,000, and will scale up from there.

Read more here about HP’s SMB storage catalog.

The IBM System Storage DS4200 Express will be available on Aug. 25, a spokesperson said.

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