I'm always happy to see major vendors such as EMC and HP take serious interest in the small-to-midsized business (SMB) space. Traditionally, SMB customers (and their smaller budgets) couldn't afford the cutting-edge technology that brought competitive advantage to their businesses. But vendors, especially those in the storage market, began to realize that SMBs' technical demands are driving new investments and that SMB users are seeking the best products that still fit their smaller budgetary requirements.

IBM, which has previously shown interest in the SMB market by releasing versions of its storage management software and entry level disk-storage systems (see http://www-03.ibm.com/servers/storage/disk/entry.html ), has brought cutting- edge, high-performance storage to the SMB space. Last week, IBM announced the IBM System Storage DS4700 Express, a storage solution that features 4Gb Fibre Channel connectivity and an entry price under $20,000.

Although the DS4700 has lots of features and capabilities (see http://www-03.ibm.com/servers/storage/disk/ds4000/ds4700/index.html for the complete specifications), it's really the 4Gb Fibre Channel capability that makes it most appealing-- for a number of reasons. First, anyone who moves large blocks of data (from databases to rich media) will see an immediate performance improvement, which will let them handle a larger user load. Because it can handle almost 34TB of physical storage capacity, the DS4700 is capable of supporting a growing business. And with the 4Gb front-to-back performance capability, businesses that purchase this technology get some added protection against obsolescence, which gives the DS4700 a practical life span longer than the storage industry's three-year standard.

Even if your business already is using Fibre Channel technologies, the DS4700 can fit right in your infrastructure because it's fully backward-compatible with 1Gb and 2Gb Fibre Channel designs. Additionally, because the 4Gb model offers twice the throughput of 2Gb systems, it will immediately improve performance without any additional overhead. As more 4Gb devices-- such as backup appliances--become available, improved performance will bring additional benefits to users.

Bundled with the IBM DS4000 Storage Manager software, the DS4700 brings the power of high-end, high-performance enterprise storage to the SMB market. Unlike some SMB-oriented products that vendors offer, which have diminished capabilities compared with the enterprise versions, DS4700 consumers get actual enterprise capabilities in a smaller, less-expensive package. And if a user grows beyond the formidable capabilities of the DS4700, IBM states that the system is fully upgradeable to the DS4800 large-scale storage system ( http://www-03.ibm.com/servers/storage/disk/ds4000/ds4800/index.html ).

It seems that IBM has given much thought on how to position this product for the SMB buyer. And the addition of the 4Gb Fibre Channel capabilities, at an incremental increase in cost, is definitely a good move by IBM and bodes well for the future of SMB storage offerings.