I often talk about the importance of the small-to-midsized business (SMB) marketplace when discussing the future of the storage industry. And although I frequently get email comments about the SMB issue from vendors, I rarely see any concerted efforts from those same vendors to tailor their product offerings to the SMB space. When vendors do make SMB concessions, they often focus on the high-end SMB customer by providing some minimal concessions on prices or feature sets that are derived from their standard line of enterprise-class products. What's most interesting is that many of the comments I get are from the line-technical people who work for storage vendors saying that they wish the vendors had more of an SMB focus.

It appears that EMC is taking to heart my suggestions about the SMB space, as evidenced by its launch of EMC Insignia. The Insignia product line (which has its own Web site at http://www.emcinsignia.com ) is targeted directly at the SMB market, offering hardware, software, and pricing tailored to SMB business users.

On the hardware side, EMC Insignia provides a specially priced version of the CLARiiON AX series disk array that starts at $5500, giving SMB users a mature storage system on which to base their storage needs. EMC provides SMB editions of EMC Storage Administrator for Exchange (Exchange storage management software), VisualSRM storage-resource management software, EMC RepliStor data-protection software, EMC Documentum eRoom collaboration software, and EMC Retrospect 7.5 backup software, to bring the full gamut of storage management and utilization tools to EMC's SMB users. The software components range in price from $399 for Retrospect 7.5 to $1995 for Storage Administrator for Exchange. EMC has optimized its software for SMBs and attempted to retain the products' full functionality, while reducing the feature set, so that SMB users aren't paying for a large group of features rarely found at their business-integration level.

To improve EMC Insignia's availability, EMC has developed a new channel partner program called the EMC Velocity SMB Partner Program, to encourage EMC resellers to jump on the SMB bandwagon. EMC intends the channel to enable SMB buyers to continue to work with their current vendor partners instead of requiring those customers to find an EMC dealer whose expertise is in enterprise-class environments.

EMC has tested the various EMC Insignia applications to ensure that they work together and will function correctly with a variety of commonly used third-party applications and devices. This is an important consideration because companies in the SMB space usually don't make a single huge investment in a solution but more often build their solutions piece by piece, picking and choosing the parts that best fill their immediate needs. The future of SMB applications is with those applications that play well with others and encourage buyers to make best-of-breed choices without having to lock into a single vendor when making their first purchases.