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Dell taps partners for new storage offerings

The computing giant will announce two new storage products Monday, but it is relying on others for the underlying technology.

Dell will announce two new storage products Monday, but the computing giant is relying on others for the underlying technology.

The $3,000 PowerVault 705N is a 120GB rack-mountable storage server just 1.75 inches thick that's actually a Dell-branded version of Quantum's Snap Server 4100, also to be unveiled Monday. In addition, Dell will begin selling its PowerVault 530F, a server with software from StorageApps that brings fancier features to higher-end storage products from Dell.

The 530F, based on a Dell 6350 server, offers customers a server appliance that lets them better protect data in centralized data facilities called storage area networks (SANs) with features such as copying or restoring data to earlier states. It will cost between $38,000 and $43,000, said Brett McAnally, marketing manager for Dell's PowerVault storage product.

Dell is pushing to grab a bigger share of the storage industry, which is growing rapidly as companies try to keep track of increasingly precious digital data. Dell accurately foresaw the rise of the storage industry, but analysts have been leery about the progress of the initiative--particularly the acquisition of ConvergeNet last September.

The ConvergeNet buy originally was to result in products by this summer. Dell warned in May that products would be delayed three months to this fall, and McAnally said this week that Dell would have only a "controlled release of the product later this year."

The ConvergeNet products are too late to be relevant, U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray analyst Ashok Kumar said in a recent report. "We believe it is unlikely that any of ConvergeNet's products will become successes in the markets now," he said. "Dell's investment in, and their licensing agreement with, StorageApps is a further attempt to cover up the problems with the ConvergeNet acquisition."

Dell Ventures and Blackstone Group invested $25 million in StorageApp in July.

Dell isn't the only computing company finding storage to be a challenge. At the highest end of the market, where storage devices cost millions of dollars, the dominance of EMC has curtailed Sun Microsystems' storage success, and IBM and Compaq Computer have been forced to bury their rivalry and join forces.

But Dell could meet with more success with the newer products.

For example, the Quantum Snap Server 4100, on which the Dell PowerVault 705N is based, is a new version of a product that rapidly ascended to major importance in Quantum's file server business.

The 3.5-inch-thick Snap Server 4000 was introduced in February but now accounts for half of the unit sales of Quantum's server appliances division, said Jeff Hill, senior marketing director of the division. "There was a lot of pent-up demand," he said, and products were under a three-month back-order for a time.

The 4100 is half the thickness of its predecessor--a feature that will increase its utility for Internet service providers and corporations that need to conserve as much floor space as possible--and offers double the hard disk space.

Signing deals with other companies is a common method big companies use to bolster product lines in areas where they lack expertise. For example, Dell tapped Network Appliance in 1999 for selling high-end storage servers, and Hewlett-Packard signed a partnership with Procom this year for competing products.

Like Dell, Quantum will sell a 120GB version of the 4100 for about $3,000. It also will sell a 240GB version for $4,500, Hill said. The products are based on Quantum's acquisition of Meridian Data.

The Snap servers are designed to plug easily into Windows, Unix, Linux, Apple Computer or Novell Netware networks. The devices themselves run a modified version of BSD Unix, Hill said.