Dell is to deliver cheaper SAN systems to attract SMEs that don't want the expense of existing Fibre Channel gear, according to Russ Holt, VP enterprise engineering in Dell's Product Group.

"We are working on a program for a sub-entry platform that will continue to drive cost out of entry-level SAN configurations," he told analysts recently. Holt was talking about a future product but declined to give more details as it has yet to be officially announced.

Two weeks ago, Dell announced delivery of EMC's three new Clariion arrays and its manufacture of the low-end CX300. But the company will now introduce another product below that, backing up speculative reports of an EMC CX100 which would have a lower capacity than the CX300's maximum 13.4TB but still using ATA drives.

Holt told Techworld: "Dell is currently developing new next generation disk storage arrays that employ Serial ATA. Recently, customers have requested Serial ATA storage arrays that employ external array-based RAID - as opposed to host-based RAID. Responding to these requests, Dell will introduce a Dell/EMC Serial ATA disk storage array (known as the AX100) with integrated array-based RAID in Q2 of CY2004. We expect other major OEMs to introduce competing offerings roughly at the same time."

He added: "Aligning with that (SAN) platform is delivery of a low-cost HBA solution and a low-cost switch solution so we will see a much lower cost-of entry" for complete SANs. He said the arrival of Serial ATA disks was a driving factor. Dell has lowered the cost/GB of SAN storage by 70 per cent since it started selling products in late 2001. It wants to drive cost out of the SAN infrastructure and sees viable alternative suppliers for HBAs (Emulex and QLogic), and switches (Brocade and McData).

According to Holt, Dell told these suppliers: "We really want to reset the cost points for SAN solutions. Which one of you wants to do that with us? That's what you will see as we introduce this sub-entry platform." He hinted that the Dell/EMC relationship was a model for what Dell was looking for.

Brocade has its Dazzler project to introduce a low cost mid-range switch that could cost 30-40 per cent less than the Silkworm 3800 and 3900 switches, and be out in the April-May period.

QLogic's SANBox5200 is a stackable switch priced at £3,070 for 8-ports and said to be 30-40 per cent less than Brocade switches.

Emulex has recently announced a new low end HBA, the LightPulse LP101 HBA, saying it delivers affordable, easy-to-use Fibre Channel connectivity, making it practical for SMB organizations to deploy. The company says it should be deliverable from its partners next quarter.