Dell Computer Corp. is set to announce that EMC Corp. will remain its exclusive supplier of storage area network (SAN) hardware until at least 2008.

The deal extends, by two years, a strategic alliance that Dell and EMC originally signed in October 2001. Under this agreement, the two companies have collaborated on the development of EMC's Navisphere and VisualSan management software. In April of this year Dell began manufacturing EMC's low-end CX200 SAN array.

The relationship has been a good one, said IDC analyst Robert Gray. "They are very different companies in that the products they sell are for quite different sections of the market, and with quite different approaches, which is why this works for the two of them," he said.

The deal means that customers don't need to worry about Dell switching Fibre Channel SAN suppliers for a few more years, but it does not shed any light on whether Dell will use EMC as the supplier when it begins selling SAN arrays based on the emerging iSCSI standard.

Dell's Advanced Systems Group Vice President Terry Kline declined to say who would be manufacturing Dell's iSCSI arrays. "We're considering the alternatives," he said. "We will do what makes sense for both our companies," he added.

Dell is expected to announce its iSCSI direction within the next 90 days, according to IDC's Gray. He said he'd be "a little surprised" if Dell tried to manufacture iSCSI systems on its own. "They've tried enough of their storage products themselves," he said.