One of the sessions I attended at the New England Area VMware User Group meeting in Newport, Rhode Island last week included a discussion on how to take the internal storage of a VMware ESX host and turn it into a virtualized iSCSI storage appliance.  I happen to believe that the approach has great merit for many smaller IT shops and for remote office environments.  The internal storage of an ESX server, if totally useable and accessible to the ESX host and other ESX servers on the network, is probably the cheapest storage you will ever buy.  What I found particularly interesting about this session, however, was the fact that the presenter downplayed the approach as good enough to experiment with the storage virtualization software, but not good enough to run production applications.  In order to encourage companies to try the software, the developer offers a free 30-day trial, the expiration of which then renders the server unuseable, unless you purchase a permanent license.  While I believe the company has good software, I don’t understand the approach to the market.

I contrast this company’s approach with the approach of my client, StorMagic, which offers SvSAN virtual storage appliance software as a free download of a permanent license.  And the software is actually “good enough” for a large set of customers, and the company doesn’t mind saying so.  In addition, the company put huge emphasis on ease-of-use and on integration with VMware’s Vcenter, such that storage can be administered entirely from within the Vcenter console.  For the administrator that has never had to manage a storage area network, this is a tremendous advantage.  It doesn’t mean that StorMagic customers won’t at some point want to upgrade their software to take advantage of larger capacity points and additional features, such as replication.  They will and many already have.  But many others will be happy with what they got and will simply turn on maintenance.

In the case of StorMagic, the software creates what Clayton Christensen termed a new-market disruptor, enabling a new set of customers to do things that were not previously possible: provide continuous data access and application-migration capabilities without the need for an external storage area network.  Over time, the software will also act as a low-end disruptive force on the established fibre-channel SAN market.

My advice to entrepreneurs is to do what StorMagic did, and look for ways to create new-market disruption that can eventually cross over to become a low-end disruptor to established markets.  In the case of StorMagic, their approach appears to be working.  They announced their 1000th software download within weeks of the product launch.