Linksys Enters SMB NAS Fray, Unveils New Switches

The new products, which include RAID-enabled NAS systems and fully managed stackable and stand-alone Layer 2 switches, complement the vendor's existing SMB networking and VoIP offerings and should enable partners to build full Linksys solutions, said Nigel Williams, vice president of channels for Linksys, Irvine, Calif.

"Our partners can now start to build a dedicated practice based on Linksys business-class solutions rather than what we see today, which is selling Linksys as an add-on," Williams said. "There are not many partners that are purely a Linksys VAR, and that's what this product launch is going to enable."

Linksys will also use the new product lines, particularly the new Small Business Network Storage Systems (NSS) family, to recruit new partners, he said.

The four new managed switches, the SFE2000, SFE2000P, SGE2000 and SGE2000P are part of the vendor's Linksys Small Business Series family. They include Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet models, available with or without support for Power over Ethernet (PoE). Up to 8 switches can be stacked, providing up to 192 ports. They also add Layer 3 static routing features to the portfolio. Pricing starts at $410 or $660 with PoE.

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The new NAS portfolio is aimed at the middle of the SMB market and will compete against products from vendors such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard that typically run in the $3,000 range, said David Tucker, senior director of product marketing for the Linksys Connected Office Business Organization. "Ours are about half that price," he said.

The lineup includes the new NSS4000 and NSS6000 four-bay Gigabit chassis without hard drives and the NSS4100 and NSS6100 with four 7200 RPM 250GB drives, for a total capacity of one Terabyte.

The product line offers support for up to RAID level 10 and includes on-disk encryption, which enables secure, off-site backup and archiving for security-conscious SMBs in areas like health care or finance, Tucker said.

Estimated street prices start at $1,000 for models without hard drives and $2,000 for models with hard drives.

Solution providers working in the small business market said the speeds, feeds and pricing of the new Linksys NAS appliances look good, but they expect Linksys to still find it a tough go in the SMB NAS market, even with its SOHO NAS experience and Cisco's resources behind it.

"There are many, many other solutions doing the same thing," said Eryck Bredy, president of Bredy Network Management, an Andover, Mass.-based small business solution provider.

A key to being successful in the small business storage market is support because when it comes to customer data, next-business day support is often not enough, Bredy said.

Other NAS vendors such as Buffalo Technology, Austin, Texas and Maxtor, now a part of Seagate, have great products and programs for the channel, but are marred by their lack of the kind of services capability his customers require, Bredy said.

"They all miss one vital piece: the services," he said. "If Linksys provides the service, they can do well with small businesses."

That is also a major concern for Jerry Pape, a principle at Excalibur, a Big Sky, Mont.-based small-business solution provider whose main product line is the Snap NAS appliance line from Adaptec

"I'm not sure Linksys can play in this market without understanding customer support," Pape said. "NAS requires a lot of support."

Even so, Pape said, it is interesting to see Linksys enter the NAS market at this time. "It means they've done some market research," he said. "They recognize the need to enter the market."

However, Pape said he is concerned about whether Linksys can offer a product suitable for small-business users despite how good its new NAS appliances look on paper. One cause for concern is that the new devices are limited to either 15 or 75 simultaneous users, a constraint many other small-business NAS products do not share.

"Linksys could argue that, with Gigabit Ethernet and hard drive performance, there are limits," he said. "But they still shouldn't be limited. You know and I know that all companies are going to push against performance limits."

In the end, Pape said, he is skeptical whenever a company enters what is for it a completely new market.

"When you are a small business, you get to the point where you really need network-attached RAID storage to protect your data," he said. "But you have to consider the pedigree of the manufacturer, their technical support, their ability to handle backups of the data. And that's the measure of how well Linksys will do in the market."