NEC Reaches out With ISCSI Midrange Storage

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NEC is expanding its midrange storage line with a new iSCSI array aimed at companies with midsized storage needs.

The company is not especially well known for storage in North America, though it supplies equipment that some other vendors sell under their own brands. NEC designs its products to offer enterprise capabilities at lower prices than big names such as Hewlett-Packard and EMC. That value proposition was just what Accutech, a digital media wholesaler in Ventura, California, was looking for.

Accutech bought NEC's new D3i platform about a month ago in the process of virtualizing its data center, said systems administrator Chris Crawford. The company is centralizing about 15 servers with local storage into four larger servers with virtual machines, using VMware ESXi. The aim is to reduce the data-center administrative burden, cut power consumption and ensure reliability. Accutech bought the NEC D3i as storage for all those virtual machines.

Accutech's needs aren't as big as for some larger enterprises. The company distributes items such as blank CDs, digital tapes and printer toner to stores and resellers around the country. It bought two linked D3i storage platforms, one with 12TB of capacity and one with 2.4TB, and is only using about 20 percent of the total capacity now. Accutech rejected the faster Fibre Channel standard for iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) because the former would have cost about four times as much, Crawford said.

"Fibre Channel is way faster, but iSCSI is more than fast enough for us," Crawford said.

The company's two-person IT department researched its options for about 18 months and found that only NEC fit its budget. NEC's 30-day return policy was another selling point. After taking delivery of the D3i about a month ago, Accutech put it through its paces. "We threw everything at it at once," Crawford said. The results met its expectations.

With the data for all its virtual servers stored on the D3i, Accutech isn't susceptible to a single point of failure, Crawford said. The storage array itself has multiple built-in redundancies, including two RAID arrays, four power supplies and four network interface cards, he said. The storage platform is the heart of the centralized data center. "I can connect, disconnect and reconnect servers until I'm blue in the face" and the data center will keep running, he said.

The D3i is an iSCSI counterpart to NEC's D3 Fibre Channel system and is designed for enterprises like Accutech that have medium-sized storage needs but don't need Fibre Channel. It has been on sale since April but is being formally announced on Tuesday. A minimum configuration with three 500GB drives is priced starting at US$6,406. The system can scale up to 144TB of capacity, with a price of about $100,000.

Although IP (Internet Protocol) storage network technologies such as iSCSI are gaining in popularity, Fibre Channel still dominates in large enterprises. For its next-generation storage platform, coming in early or mid-2010, NEC is looking at offering both types of interfaces in the same system, though it hasn't heard demand for that from customers, said Josh Eddy, product marketing manager for the Advanced Storage Products Group of NEC Corp. of America.

Also on Tuesday, NEC will introduce thin provisioning capability for its D8 enterprise platform, the first of NEC's storage platform to get that capability. Thin provisioning allows administrators to provision storage capacity for a particular purpose without having to buy and install the entire amount at once. It is a software option for the D8 that costs about $8,300. NEC hasn't yet seen demand for thin provisioning in its other products, Eddy said.

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