Research firm releases midrange array buyer's guide

But it leaves out two key metrics: performance and pricing

Storage research firm Data Center Infrastructure Group (DCIG) Inc. today released a midrange storage array buyers guide, which includes reviews of more than 70 devices from 18 vendors rating them with a Consumer Guide-like recommendation system.

Midrange arrays are the fastest growing segment of the external disk storage industry, which saw $18 billion in revenue last year.

On each midrange array, at least 60 different features were evaluated, weighted, scored and then ranked.

"The purpose of this Buyer's Guide is not to tell users exactly which midrange array to purchase," Jerome Wendt, DCIG's president and founder, wrote in an executive summary for the guide. "Rather, it is to help guide them in coming up with a list of competitive products that have comparable features that meet their specific needs."

The product review, which took the Austin-based firm three months to compile, compares performance and pricing, power usage and space efficiency, and reliability and functionality. Wendt said his firm was not paid by any vendor to develop the guide, which is based on vendor specification information that is publicly available.

Wendt said the guide, which sells for $5,000, will be particularly useful to IT managers because it was written and prepared from a user's perspective, and because the review is open about what factors it did and did not take into consideration in its ratings. Wendt is a former data storage administrator for Midwest electronic payments company First Data Corp. He started DCIG in 2005.

The research firm, which consists of seven analysts, reviewed both Fiber Channel (FC) and Internet SCSI (discs) arrays and then ranks each model as 'Recommended', 'Excellent', 'Good' or 'Entry Level'. DCIG classified the vendor products as: "Midrange Array FC/iSCSI SAN", "Midrange Array FC SAN", "Midrange Array iSCSI SAN", "Midrange Array Hardware" and "Midrange Array Software".

The vendors whose products were reviewed include 3Par, Celeros, Compellent, Dell, Dot Hill, EMC, Fujitsu, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Infortrend, NEC, NetApp, Nexsan, Oracle/Sun, Overland Storage, Pillar Data Systems and Xiotech.

"Just coming up with that exhaustive list of storage providers and the models took some time," Wendt wrote in an introduction to the report. "Then I still had to sort through each model's hardware and software features and differentiate between them. While the differences between individual models were in many cases slight, differences do exist between each and every midrange array."

To determine which arrays would be included in the Buyer's Guide, Wendt set certain criteria, including whether the array scales to at least 30TB of capacity, has at least two controllers, and whether the vendor provided enough information for an end-user to make a meaningful decision about a purchase.

During his time at First Data, Wendt said the storage team came up with an extensive list of evaluation criteria for the arrays, which he drew on for his own analysis in the array guide. Once criteria was established, the IT team would go through and evaluate each midrange array, clearing up ambiguities such as similar features referred to by different marketing names. First Data would then weight the more important features, such as synchronous and asynchronous replication or data deduplication and rank each midrange array.

DCIG's Buyer's Guide, however, does not include two of the most obvious factors that influence an IT manager's purchasing decision: performance and cost. The firm left out performance because it varies according to workloads and "is a metric that the storage industry as a whole does not yet fully agree on how to do," Wendt wrote.

Wendt said performance is also difficult to pin down when vendors are constantly changing features on their products, such as adding more cache or solid-state drive (SSD) capability. "The same arguments that apply to performance also apply to pricing," he wrote.

Wendt noted that would-be buyers can conclude that a midrange array that supports 8Gbit/sec Fibre Channel interfaces, 16GB of cache, SSDs and 15,000rpm 300GB Fibre Channel hard disk drives will perform better -- and cost more -- than a midrange array that supports 1Gbit/sec iSCSI interfaces, 2GB of cache and 5400rpm 2TB serial ATA drives.

MIdrange arrays that had more cache, 8Gbit/sec Fibre Channel and 10Gbit/sec Ethernet ports, faster disk drives, serial-attached SCSI interconnects and new features like SSDs, scored higher than those without, he said.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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