LSI Enters Custom System Market With Modular Storage Offerings

LSI, long a provider of storage components for OEM vendors, is moving to support custom system builders with a new family of configurable storage products.

LSI this week unveiled the CTS2600 family of enclosures and controllers that allow custom system builders to build storage appliances featuring combinations of 6-Gbit SAS, Gbit Ethernet iSCSI, and 8-Gbit Fibre Channel connectivity.

LSI is already the primary provider of entry-level and midrange storage systems to OEM partners such as IBM, and is now targeting its technology at custom systems builders in order to expand its market opportunities, said Brent Blanchard, director of storage solution channel sales for the company.

LSI anticipates no channel conflicts with its OEM partners for a couple of reasons, Blanchard said.

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For instance, for its new CTS2600 line of storage products, LSI is taking a modular approach by providing a control module which is separate from the storage modules, Blanchard said. OEM customers, on the other hand, work with LSI's single-chassis solutions, he said.

"We continue to have our OEM focus," he said. "We're not going to pull back from our OEM business. We want to expand our business with the channel. Our message is, it's not about channel conflict. It's about market expansion."

LSI will also focus on the entry-level storage market, and has no plans to bring higher-end enclosures to its system builder partners, he said.

"However, we will help partners with support," he said. "We will leverage the same support we offer OEMs, and leverage our existing sales force in the channel."

The CTS2600 line includes a controller module with two SAS connectors plus a choice of 8-Gbit Fibre Channel, iSCSI, or additional SAS connectors.

Also included are 2U rack-mount storage enclosures with 6-Gbit SAS connectivity on the back end which can be configured with either 24 2.5-inch or 12 3.5-inch hard drives or SSDs.

The CTS2600 family is compatible with the Storage Bridge Bay specification which specifies how storage controller modules and storage enclosures connect to each other.

Next: Moving To The Channel

LSI's move into the channel started with its $20 million acquisition in mid-2009 of the 3ware RAID adapter business of Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC).

The acquisition made LSI the largest provider of storage adapters to the channel, Blanchard said. More specifically, it made LSI the top supplier of SAS adapters, with nine of the top 10 storage OEMs relying on the company, he said.

"But the 3ware acquisition was not about SATA or SAS," he said. "It was about getting into the channel. It was our signal to the channel that we were gaining strength."

The CTS2600 is LSI's way to get its foot in a market outside its traditional RAID controller market, said James Huang, product marketing manager at Amax Information Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based custom system builder.

LSI's move into the channel will also speed the adoption of the new 6-Gbit SAS connectivity protocol, Huang said.

"LSI is a leader in RAID technology, and we look forward to working with them," he said. "LSI has the marketing power to drive the market. That's why they bought 3ware."

There is nothing to not like about the CTS2600, said Gautan Shah, owner and president of Colfax International, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based custom system builder.

"It's a modular system, so you have building blocks for customers," Shah said. "It's not a case of where there's one model for direct-attached storage, one for this SAN, one for that iSCSI environment. For us, it's a toolkit we can configure however we want to."

It also helps when talking to customers that LSI is not a startup, Shah said.

"Customers can be sure LSI will be around," he said. "Just look at the bunch of NAS startups that recently came and went, companies that took NAS software, put it on a plug-in dongle, and connected it to a server motherboard. And now nearly all of them are gone."