Seagate's BlackArmor NAS 420 and 440 are designed for ease of use and include encryption, but so far lack a connection with cloud storage services that some of the competition has.
The NAS 420 is a two drive system in a half-populated four-drive bay, and the NAS 440 is fully populated with four drives. The products are aimed at shops with up to 50 clients, according to Naser Mgariaf, senior manager, product line management, Seagate consumer solution division.
One of the main differentiators of the product, according to Seagate, is a feature called BlackArmor Discovery, which triggers backup software to automatically start backing up from PCs connected to the network to the BlackArmor device. This tool will show all BlackArmor boxes on the network and their backup status, according to Mgariaf. The software can also perform NAS-to-NAS replication.
"What they've focused on is ease of use," said Wolfgang Schlichting, IDC's research director for removable storage, citing the automatic discovery feature and hot-swappable drives and fans in the hardware chassis. "That's especially appealing to SMBs, who may not have a services contract or internal IT, that users can swap out parts themselves."
The BlackArmor products lack automated provisioning -- automatic re-striping of drives when capacity is added -- found in other SMB storage products such as Data Robotics' Drobo. Users have to reconfigure the BlackArmor boxes to change the provisioning scheme.
"That's where end users need to be careful," Schlichting said. "But there are some companies which may be quite comfortable with that kind of storage planning."
This is becoming a crowded market space as demand for low-end storage product grows. Framingham, Mass.-based IDC expects worldwide personal storage device shipments to grow from approximately 52 million in 2008 to 123 million in 2012. Users now have a wide range of choices for home and small-office storage, including new offerings released this quarter.
For example, EMC Corp. beefed up its Iomega consumer/prosumer NAS box last week, adding remote-access capabilities, direct torrent downloading, folder quotas, and support for jumbo-frames and Apple File Protocol (AFP). Hitachi GST acquired a company called Fabrik last month, which makes G-Technology external hard drive systems for Macintosh computers and SimpleTech systems for PCs.
NetGear also offers a ReadyNAS line of products, in addition to other well-established companies like Buffalo, which Seagate identifies as its biggest competitor.
"They've been dominant in this space so far," Mgariaf said of Buffalo.
Schlichting says the association of the BlackArmor name with security will also be a differentiator for Seagate. Seagate acquired the BlackArmor brand when it bought rival Maxtor in 2005.
"It's still a very powerful name in this area, and the software encryption they include is flexible, so it can be set for different files and folders," Schlitchting said. A recent IDC survey found that users have security features high on their priority list for products like this, he said, "especially if there's Web-based management access."
Unlike several competitors, BlackArmor lacks a bundled connection with cloud-based backup services. Iomega hard drives and NAS systems ship bundled with the option of linking up with EMC's Mozy online backup. Fabrik rebrands Mozy as Fabrik Ultimate Backup, and sells it as an option with SimpleTech systems. ReadyNAS sends data to ElephantDrive, an online storage service based on Amazon's S3 cloud. Some external hard drives such as Western Digital's MyBook also connect with online backup services.
Seagate acquired an online backup service provider, EVault, in 2006, and has since rechristened it as i365, but BlackArmor is still in qualification testing with i365. "Technically speaking, it can be used [with i365], but without qualification testing it's hard to confirm that today," Mgariaf said.
BlackArmor also still lacks drive spindown, which Seagate has pledged to offer across its hard drive product lines.
"This isn't the final move for Seagate," Schlichting said. "This is more of an entry into the small business market. They have an impressive number of features, but they might not have everything every end user is looking for."