EMC Kicks NetApp’s NAS

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With EMC World winding down today in Las Vegas, it’s interesting to note that despite its ever-broadening product portfolio, EMC (NYSE: EMC) still enjoys a good fight with its closest rival in the NAS space.

NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) pioneered the network-attached storage (NAS) field, challenging EMC’s supremacy in the storage market with a message of simplified access to large amounts of storage without the need for esoteric storage knowledge.

EMC's Celerra NS20
The Celerra NS20: Is this EMC’s NetApp Killer?

EMC responded pretty quickly with its own line of NAS products, and since then a grand battle has unfolded.

NetApp, in turn, moved into the SAN space and the two have fought hard ever since, although EMC has steadily gained ground in the NAS space. EMC continues to dominate in SANs and has taken over the lead in NAS the last couple of years, while NetApp holds an edge in the emerging iSCSI market.

According to IDC, the NAS market grew 11.4 percent last year. EMC’s 38.1 percent revenue share puts it significantly ahead of NetApp’s 27.2 percent, although some of EMC’s sales came from the CAS market.

“We are seeing strong demand for NAS systems aimed at easing the pain associated with managing file-based data,” said Brad Nisbet, an analyst at IDC.

And as EMC and NetApp have battled — and other vendors have joined in — NetApp’s annual revenue growth rate has fallen from around 30 percent to the mid-teens — still ahead of EMC, but not by much. NetApp’s stock was trading lower today after the company’s latest quarterly results were released last night.

Celerra Accelerating

There are indications that EMC could be pulling further ahead in the NAS battle courtesy of its Celerra unified storage NS20 and NS40 systems. Sales are so high that the company can’t keep up with demand and is in the midst of beefing up manufacturing facilities to ramp up production.

“We have sold every Celerra NS20 and NS40 we have been able to make in the last two quarters,” said Dave Donatelli, head of the information storage division at EMC. “As a result, we are experiencing over 50 percent growth in Celerra sales.”

Most unit sales are occurring in EMC’s lowest-end Celerra box, the NS20. This is characterized as a multi-protocol IP storage system. It can connect to multiple storage networks via NAS, iSCSI and Fibre Channel SAN, thus enabling customers to consolidate more applications onto one box, as well as eliminating data from a series of file servers and arrays.

So why is this machine appearing to kick the butt of comparable NetApp offerings? Barry Ader, senior director of EMC Storage Platforms Marketing, says it’s all about two factors — unified storage and ease of use. As it runs multiple protocols, customers can mix and match FC, iSCSI, NFS and CIFS on one box.

“We discovered that customers and partners want the choice of what protocols they run,” he said. “You can use CIFS for one part, FC for another and iSCSI for another, all on the same NS20.”

On the ease-of-use side, its design goal was to make it installable in less than 15 minutes. Ader says it now takes less than 10 minutes to power it up and have it serving files. That compares to several hours before and the need for a lot more technical savvy. Now, all you need is four to seven data inputs on a couple of screens and it is done. This is accomplished via the Celerra Startup Assistant (CSA).

“As you go down more into the mid-market, you have to make products easier for end users and VARs in order to sell them quickly and easily — and that’s what we’ve done,” said Ader.

That has led to a big change in NS series sales for EMC. In the past, they were almost exclusively sold directly. By simplifying the product and making it easy for the channel to push it cost effectively, most NS20 sales are now via its partner network.

One of the big surprises has been the percentage of users employing at least a partial Fibre Channel component. Since expanding this NS machine from iSCSI or NAS to handling both protocols and FC, about half of users have included an FC element.

“We are seeing about 50 percent using FC and most using the NS20 for multiple protocols,” said Ader. “Clearly, users want a choice.”

The NS20 appears to have expanded the reach of FC down further into the SMB space by making it easier to add FC to existing NAS and IP SAN infrastructures. But Ader adds that if SMBs want FC only, they should opt for a Clariion AX4 box for less than $10,000.

EMC Not the Only Game in Town

Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of StorageIO Group, points out that while EMC is discovering the joys of multiple protocols, others such as NetApp, HP and Dell are ahead of them.

“It’s good to see that EMC is gaining momentum in the low end,” said Schulz. “But to say that this momentum alone would or could seal the deal on EMC dominating NAS would take just a little bit more Kool-Aid.”

The multi-protocol space, he said, is being collectively dominated by NetApp and other solution providers harnessing Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server (WSS). WSS software is being used by vendors as the foundation for their NFS/CIFS NAS and iSCSI platforms. NetApp is big in this market, and its FAS and StoreVault lines can address NFS, CIFS, iSCSI and FC natively.

EMC concurred that it isn’t ahead in this sector of the market.

“We aren’t leading in the multi-protocol space, but the success of the NS20 and the intro of our entry-level Clariion AX4 [dual protocol — iSCSI and FC] have put us in a very strong and confident position against our competitors, including NetApp,” said Todd Cadley, an EMC spokesperson. “Given the 50 percent growth in our Celerra business fueled by our NS20 product, and overall success in NAS, we feel we have impacted NetApp’s market share.”

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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