StorageTek recognises that, given its overall size and two percent share of the RAID market, it is ill prepared for a major challenge to the heavyweights in the space (EMC, IBM and HDS).

Its strategy, therefore, is to leverage its strength in tape automation and develop a business in commodity ATA-based devices, with Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) as an overarching discipline to enable customers to buy less high-priced Fibre Channel arrays from its competitors and more of its products.

CEO Pat Martin acknowledges that, where customers have made the choice to use EMC’s Symmetrix, IBM’s Shark or the HDS Lightning, “we’re not going to displace them.” All three of these vendors are much larger, have deeper pockets and considerably more marketing muscle than StorageTek. So, rather than go head-on against them, his strategy is to target niche markets, such as broadcasting, with the company’s own high-end monolithic arrays, the SVA product line.

StorageTek competes more broadly with its midrange D Series and will step up its assault in that space shortly, when it launches Serial ATA (SATA) on that portfolio, a product line that will be called the B Series.

The main thrust of the company’s marketing strategy, however, is ILM, which proposes a tiered approach to storage. In this data migrates up and down a hierarchy of more or less performance (and thus more or less expensive) devices depending on its business-criticality and how recently it was last accessed. StorageTek is not the only vendor to champion ILM but it reckons to have been the first. It is in the process of registering the term as a trademark with a view to stymieing others’ marketing plans.

Most notably, EMC has espoused ILM since its acquisition earlier this year of storage ISV Legato. While Martin utters the standard response that he welcomes competition, and the visibility EMC is bringing to ILM, one senses a new urgency at StorageTek now that the 800-pound gorilla has entered the ILM arena. In any case, Martin questions how earnestly EMC will work to push a technology which, if successful, will mean lower sales of Symmetrix. Furthermore, EMC is not, and has no intention of becoming, a tape automation player.

For StorageTek, ILM is an offering involving tape libraries, SATA, Fibre Channel and, potentially, Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) devices that mix these media, and the software to enable policy-based movement between them. Its brand new tape library, the SL8500 (the company's first non-silo product), mixes its enterprise drives with LTO and SDLT midrange superdrives. Next year it will offer automated data migration between them. The D Series midrange RAID arrays will shortly be available in SATA as well as FC configurations and next year you’ll be able to mix FC and SATA in the same box.

On the software side, its EchoView continual backup and recovery technology will be able to interact with FC or SATA arrays next year, instead of only writing to internal disk as now. The new MirrorStore product enables users of primary disk from the competition to mirror to its cheaper D Series, or replicate to the cheaper still B Series.

Additional ILM software offerings will see the light of day in 2004 and will certainly find their way onto the SL8500. “The one we’re demo-ing has empty bays on the back,” said Jon Benson, VP of StorageTek’s automated tape solutions, “assume we’ll put things in there.”

StorageTek’s real challenge is to get its ILM offering onto the market and gain mindshare before EMC integrates its portfolio, which that company’s VP Mark Lewis says will take three years. It faces the “make, partner or buy” conundrum right now. Though StorageTek has not traditionally grown through acquisition, it has $950m in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet, so some targeted acquisitions would not come as a big surprise.