EMC's Insignia -- More than a pretty package?

In the competition for attention from SMB pros, EMC turns up the heat with its new Insignia product line.

In a move designed to transform EMC Corp. from a direct-sales hardware giant to an SMB partner with a strong channel strategy and user-friendly software, the storage company this week introduced its new Insignia product line.

For those IT professionals wary of another large vendor trying to win the hearts of SMBs, The InfoPro Inc. analyst Robert Stevenson acknowledged the Insignia line is partly a spruced-up version of existing products. Still, Stevenson said, there are some features of the new hardware and software line that SMBs can get excited about.

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"It's low-cost and it's shrink-wrapped," said Stevenson, director of storage research for the Manhattan-based firm specializing in customer-based research. "And the VisualSRM project has a nice little GUI. It's probably ideal in the 200 GB to half a terabyte size. You can see your entire environment." The Insignia eRoom browser-accessed collaboration feature is also something SMBs, with fewer project managers and resources than large enterprises, could benefit from, he said. It's priced at $995 for every 10 users.

Other Insignia line products include the iSCSI-based AX100 array starting at $5,500, Storage Administrator for Exchange ($1,995), Retrospect 7.5 backup software ($195 to $1,295) and RepliStor 6.1 replication software ($995 per node).

As part of the Insignia launch, EMC also announced a revamped version of its Retrospect Windows backup and recovery software for SMBs. New features in Retrospect v. 7.5 include user-initiated restores, automated deployment of client software, automated software updates, the ability to restore data or copy to tape during backups to disk, and offline verification.

One v. 7.5 beta tester said yesterday that the user-initiated restores sound simple enough -- but they are among his favorite Retrospect features.

"If someone overwrites a file, and this happens every day -- it simply saves time to have them retrieve the file themselves," said Ed Glasgow, president and CTO at Boulder, Colo.–based civil engineering firm Scott, Cox & Associates Inc.

With about 500 GB of data spread across three Dell servers, the firm has been using Retrospect for more than a decade to back up data, and like many small shops, it stopped backing up to tape in recent years.

Now there is a nightly backup to a hard drive, and, using Retrospect, Glasgow backs up company data to a mirror server set up at his home. The way vendors of all sizes have been courting growing companies can be crazy-making, Glasgow said.

"It's terribly confusing," Glasgow said. "I've shopped around. I've taken a look at the competition. I haven't found anything else that makes more sense to me."

EMC's move into the small and midmarket started in earnest in 2004, when the company acquired Dantz Development Corp., maker of the Retrospect backup and recovery software. Larry Zulch, former CEO and co-founder of Dantz Development Corp., will manage the EMC Insignia business, EMC said in its Insignia announcement.

"The Insignia initiative formalizes a lot of what EMC has been doing in the SMB space since 2001 when it launched its partnership with Dell," said Charles King, principal analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research.

Stevenson said Insignia is positioned squarely against DataCore Software Corp., which bills itself as a provider and manager of virtual infrastructures, in trying to get the attention of SMB decision makers. The privately held, independent software firm continues to pick up traction in the SMB storage management space, he said.

"EMC needs to fight that off directly," Stevenson said. "And SMBs could benefit from that."

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