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Desktop and low-end rackmount NAS servers getting more powerful

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September 6, 2012

For the past twelve months or so, desktop and low-end rackmount NAS (network attached storage) servers have been getting more powerful and with additional features.

Storage solutions provider Thecus has just introduced a new line of NASs, together with directly attached storage servers that can be daisy-chained to a master unit.

For example, the rackmount N-4510 and the desktop N-7510 are both Atom-powered, with 2 GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and have 4 and 7 bays respectively, filled with Western Digital's Red NAS drives in the units we saw.

Both support 1 GbitE and USB 2.0, also USB 3.0 as hosts, and come with McAfee anti-virus protection. We saw the N-4510 with a local keyboard, mouse and display run off the Atom processor and these can be used to play multimedia files on the server and even run a browser.

The N-4510 uses v5.0 of the Thecus operating system which supports 10 BASE-T, has 2.5 PB of memory addressability, Data Guard backup features and the McAfee SW.

Mike Chang, director of communications at Thecus, says the company's main rivals are Qnap and Synology. He said he wasn't aware of Overland Storage and its Qnap Server NAS product line. Other competitors have to include Buffalo, Iomega and Seagate's LaCie's products.

These low-end NAS products are just going to keep on getting more powerful and with more storage capacity. For example, 4 TB drives are coming soon and that will boost overall capacities up about 32 percent from the 3 TB drives that can be used today.

And for now, it's not entirely inconceivable that flash caches could start appearing soon as well, if not actual SSDs. Also, premium product player Drobo already supports these.

It could well be that mainstream storage array vendors are simply ruled out of the low-end small office and SMB NAS market because their products are too expensive and their development cycles are too long. This could also mean that players like Overland might have to bring their pricing down a bit to compete directly with companies like Thecus or focus on other segments of the market.

For its part, EMC manages to compete with the Thecus-type providers by having a separately branded Iomega business unit. NetApp tried its StoreVault brand for the low-end but gave up in the end. Profit margins here are very thin and volume is key.

Iomega, with its million-plus sales of its StorageCenter line knows that and is profiting from it. Maybe other mainstream vendors should have their own Iomega-type sub-brand as well.

In other IT news

Market research firm Gartner says that global server sales remained weak during the year's second quarter.

Gartner added that revenues were off 2.9 percent to $12.86 billion against a slight 1.4 percent increase to 2.37 million servers shipped to customers between April and June of this year.

Overall, the x86 server market continues to dominate in terms of sales volumes, helped along by Intel's Xeon E5 refresh in March, April and May, plus AMD's launch of its Opteron 4200s and 6200 CPUs in November 2011.

On average, the x86 segment was relatively healthy despite the world's economic challenges. Gartner's researchers say that x86 server makers shipped 2.33 million units in the second quarter, a 1.8 percent increase compared to the year-ago period.

Thanks to customized configurations necessary to support server virtualization options, x86 server revenues across all makers rose by 5.6 percent to $9.19 billion.

In terms of sales, Hewlett-Packard was the number one x86 system vendor, with $3.2 billion in sales, but falling six-tenths of a percentage point compared to the same period in 2011.

For its part, Dell ranked second and grew both shipments and revenues, in contrast to both HP and IBM. To be fair, Dell only sells x86 servers, and piled up just under $2 billion in sales pushing its PowerEdge products in the quarter. It's not a coincidence that Dell got the jump on both HP and IBM in getting Xeon E5 servers out the door. We'll see if Dell's market share gains hold in the third and fourth quarters.

IBM delivered just $1.24 billion in sales, and perhaps its x86 sales were stalled by the launch of its Flex System modular servers, very much like Cisco Systems' Unified Computing Systems in April, which didn't start shipping until mid-May.

Most notably, Cisco has surpassed Oracle in terms of aggregate x86 servers sold, with a 54.5 percent growth rate to $376.3 million in sales in the second quarter.

For its part, Lenovo broke into the top five shippers category with 52,409 servers shipped, up 44.7 percent year-on-year. It may not be long before Lenovo and Cisco beat both Oracle and Fujitsu out of the top five server vendor rankings in the x86 segment.

Overall, Oracle had $316.1 million in sales of x86 server revenues in the second quarter, and Cisco has already jumped ahead of Oracle and therefore pushed Fujitsu out of the top five in terms of server revenues.

Notably, Oracle's x86 server sales, driven by sales of Exadata and Exalogic clusters and Exalogic analytics servers, rose by 19.2 percent.

While all of this is happening, Gartner cases the Unix market each quarter in addition to dicing and slicing the x86 market, and unlike IDC, Gartner doesn't try to categorize server revenues by the primary operating system that will eventually be installed on it if it has not already been pre-installed.

Overall, Unix systems based on RISC or Itanium CPUs accounted for about $2.15 billion in revenues in the second quarter, down 17.9 percent.

However, IBM is still the dominant vendor in the Unix server segment. Big Blue has to be a little bit dismayed that Unix sales have collapsed so much in recent years even if pressure from Windows and Linux means it cannot come as a surprise.

Source: Thecus.

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