NetApp Makes SMB Play With New FAS2240, Cuts Entry Pricing To Sub-$7,500

NetApp is beefing up its push to the small and mid-size storage market with the introduction of a new version of its FAS2000 unified storage appliances as well as a dramatic price drop of an existing appliance to hit the sub-$7,500 part of the market.

Most importantly, the company's new assault on the SMB market comes by extending its existing unified storage technology to new lower entry points instead of using a completely new architecture as it did about five years ago with its short-lived StoreVault strategy.

NetApp Tuesday placed a big bet on the midrange business storage market by refreshing about 20 percent of its technology, said Chris Cummings, vice president of product and solutions marketing for the vendor.

"We're looking at how to take the best infrastructure and the cloud, and make it ready for the midrange market," Cummings said.

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Like all NetApp's storage appliances, the new FAS2240 models introduced Tuesday feature unified storage capabilities. Unified storage allows block-level (SAN), file-level (NAS), and direct-attached storage protocols to be used simultaneously within a single appliance, thereby simplifying the management of the storage.

David Hitz, founder and executive vice president of NetApp, said NetApp introduced the unified storage concept along with the need to be able to grow storage capacity and performance without having to replace existing hardware about 10 years ago, and has been improving on it ever since.

"When NetApp was a mid-size company and growing very quickly, whatever system we put in, we knew it would be busted someday and so we'd need a new painful upgrade to a new solution," Hitz said. "That's why unified [storage] is so important. Customers need to scale as they grow. Mid-size enterprise customers want to grow, so the foundation has to be able to grow with them."

Unified storage is a key differentiator of NetApp, said Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based solution provider and long-term NetApp partner.

"It's why I exclusively rep NetApp," Strasheim said. "I'd never want to tell a customer, 'Let's go with (an EMC) VNXe, and I will later help you migrate your data to a VNX.' I'd never want to go to a customer with hat in hand and say, 'I can upgrade you, take your system off-line, and sell you the services to migrate your data.'"

While EMC got a lot of buzz with the January introduction of its VNX and VNXe SMB range of storage appliances, NetApp remains the fastest-growing midrange business storage vendor with a 60-percent year-to-year growth rate, Cummings said, quoting IDC statistics. About one-third of NetApp's revenue comes from the midrange market, he said.

"Hewlett-Packard is number one in this market," he said. "We are number two. Our goal is to be number one. And we can't reach this market without a storage channel. To do that, we can't just focus on products. We need to offer an entire solutions portfolio. When we look at our major competitors, we see that reach is king. Without partners, we can't reach this market."

NetApp unveiled two new midrange storage appliances in the new FAS2240 family, which according to some NetApp marketing material and confirmed by channel sources is code-named "Vespa."

The FAS2240-2 expands to up to 374 TBs in a 2U rack mount enclosure with eight Gbit Ethernet ports and four 6-Gbps SATA ports. It also supports an additional I/O card which offers either four 8-Gbps Fibre Channel or four 10-Gbps Ethernet ports.

Next: Dramatic Price Drop For The FAS2040

The FAS2240-4 is similar, but packs up to 430 TBs of capacity into a 4U space.

NetApp Tuesday also sharply dropped the entry-level price of an existing storage appliance. That appliance, the FAS2040, is now list priced at just under $7,500 with six 1-TB SATA hard drives, down significantly from its original starting price of about $11,690 when it was introduced two years ago. That brings its price to even less than the $7,920 price of the company's less-scalable FAS2020.

NetApp is also simplifying the ordering of its midrange storage appliances by offering a grand total of only seven software bundle SKUs, Cummings said. While NetApp has offered software bundles in the past, the price and the configuration of the bundles for the new appliances are more in tune with midrange customer requirements, he said. Customers can also purchase software ala carte, he said.

Tuesday's new storage appliances and the drop in price of the FAS2040 is not NetApp's first foray into the SMB storage market.

The company in May of 2006 unveiled its StoreVault line of small business appliances, which were priced starting at around $5,000. However, by early 2009 it had killed off the line.

For companies like NetApp and its rival EMC, the SMB part of the storage market can be much tougher to manage than the enterprise part, said Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and partner to both storage vendors.

"The more expensive part of the market has many companies providing great products, but those companies have a lot of trouble in the SMB market," Norbie said. "Look at StoreVault. That product line was inconsistent with NetApp's core architecture. With Vespa, NetApp has brought its WAFL operating system downstream."

Norbie said NetApp's decision to keep the same architecture throughout its line, including for the new FAS2240 appliances, meant that SMB companies will be getting a different kind of user interface than they might be used to.

"I'm not sure how people will feel psychologically about the different interfaces in EMC's VNXe vs. NetApp," he said. "The VNXe GUI is based on its ability to appeal to business users, while NetApp is more focused on the administrator. However, at the part of the SMB market for NetApp, storage in general still requires IT administrators."

Norbie said that the part of the SMB storage market where business "wizard" GUI interfaces are common are served by companies like Iomega, Drobo (Data Robotics), and other retail-type products. However, he said, for new SMB customers just starting up, that part of the market is going to the cloud via Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365, rather than depending on their own storage appliances.

"For NetApp's SMB market, what's more important is its appliances' integration with VMware, replication, and snapshot features," he said. "And I think Vespa is going to be a hit."

NetApp breaking into the sub-$7,500 storage market with the new pricing for its FAS2040 is also very important, Norbie said.

"Customers are looking for a hardware-based platform which provides a scalable entry into this market," he said. "Downstream from this will be the new VMware VSA (Virtual Storage Appliance). If customers want to upgrade on the VSA, they will need something like NetApp's offering."

Peak UpTime's Strasheim called the FAS2240 a "brilliant" throwback to NetApp's older FAS250 and FAS270 appliances, where a customer could start with a lower-cost storage appliance and then, as capacity and scale requirements grew, could use them as a disk shelf for higher-end appliances by just connecting them to another model without the need to migrate the data.

"Also, the fact that NetApp bundled all its protocols with the FAS2240 is critical," he said. "In the past, other vendors passed around FUD that NetApp nickled and dimed customers to death by charging for the protocols. Now NetApp is including iSCSI, CIFS, and NFS in the Vespa."

The FAS2240 is currently available. List pricing ranges from $19,000 to $40,000.