When I talk to storage vendors, I almost always bring up the small-to-midsized business (SMB) marketplace. Just about every vendor nods their head and agrees that it’s an important part of the market--then goes on to tell me about their company’s latest and greatest enterprise-class product. But it seems that HP’s recent success in releasing its StorageWorks line of products targeted at the SMB space is starting to cause other first-tier storage vendors to take notice.

EMC jumped on board a while back with their partnership with Dell to move their CLARiiON arrays to Dell’s SMB market base. And now IBM has realized that they’ve been missing an opportunity: They recently released the IBM System Storage DS3300 iSCSI storage solution, targeted directly at the SMB market.

With a single 1Gbps iSCSI connection, the DS3300 is clearly not an enterprise appliance. Although it can be fully expanded to over 14TB of storage, doing so requires adding three IBM System Storage EXP3000 enclosures to the base DS3300 unit. Alone the DS3300 is capable of supporting up to 3.6TB of storage (using 300GB Serial Attached SCSI--SAS--drives) with its 12 hot-swappable drive bays. The DS3300 can be configured either as DAS or as an iSCSI device on your network and supports RAID levels 0, 1, 3, 5, and 10.

IBM highlights the ease of use of the DS3300 and includes their DS3000 Storage Manager software (available for Windows Server 2003 and Linux) for configuring and managing the DS3300 storage device. They believe that iSCSI makes it easy to install in existing IP networks, allowing SMB organizations to easily deploy the unit throughout their enterprise to take advantage of the capabilities iSCSI storage brings to a network. And IBM feels that the expansion capabilities for additional storage are appropriate for the SMB market.

The product includes installation wizards that walk the administrator through installation of the iSCSI SAN, a useful feature for an SMB that doesn’t yet have any SAN installations or is on its first implementation of iSCSI--or, as IBM states, lacks any significant internal IT support. With a buy-in price of $5,000 for the basic unit, the DS3300 is reasonably priced for what it is: an entry-level, first-tier, iSCSI SAN device.

Although IBM seems to be beginning to realize that playing to the SMB market will gain them adherents that might eventually grow to be customers of their enterprise division products, I still get the feeling that they don’t quite understand the mindset or business model of the bulk of the SMB space. For example, the release announcing the DS3300 points out that it provides an alternative to going to a Fibre Channel SAN--which is true, but a customer who doesn’t have an internal IT department, or who has a few IT guys who do nothing but support, isn’t even considering Fibre Channel storage solutions. They are just realizing that they need a better way to get a handle on their increasing storage needs. They aren’t planning on an interim solution between now and a future fiber solution; they’re just looking for an answer to today’s storage problems that they understand.

IBM needs to understand that although some SMB customers will grow to what the DS3300 can offer, not many will grow much bigger. Thus, IBM should consider the DS3300 a long-term solution to these customers’ storage needs rather than just an intermediate solution. The DS3300 may well be the right solution for SMB customers who simply need better storage solutions and aren’t looking at their new storage platform as a stepping stone to bigger and better storage solutions that they might need in the future.