Start-ups preview next-generation technologies

Posted on March 01, 2002

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By Heidi Biggar

The economic slump hasn't stalled the entry of dozens of new storage vendors over the past year. While many seasoned storage companies continue to struggle to post gains and to maintain pre-recession R&D levels, a new crop of start-ups has emerged, backed by venture capital, with promises of bringing evolutionary-and in some cases revolutionary-products to virtually all storage market segments.

This article previews the technologies of six emerging companies: InfiniCon Systems, Sanera Systems, Storigen, 3PAR Data, Voltaire, and Z-force.

InfiniCon Systems

InfiniCon is jumping on the InfiniBand bandwagon. The nearly two-year-old company, which is based in King of Prussia, PA, has developed a shared I/O subsystem that it claims can drastically improve the performance, scalability, and manageability of computer and storage networks.

The idea behind the sharable I/O subsystem is to provide InfiniBand-enabled servers and network-attached storage (NAS) devices access to Fibre Channel and Ethernet networks, explains Chuck Foley, CEO at InfiniCon. "We believe Fibre Channel is here to stay-and in this business that means 10 years."

The sharable I/O subsystem sits between InfiniBand-enabled servers and either Fibre Channel SAN or Ethernet SAN/NAS islands, providing a common point of connectivity to those environments. This eliminates the need to wire individual servers to multiple networks, explains Foley, substituting a web of server/interface connections with a pool of dynamically allocated resources. In addition to manageability and scaling benefits, Foley claims the I/O architecture can significantly improve NAS performance, offloading up to 40% of TCP/IP processing from those devices.

InfiniCon demonstrated the technology at the recent Server I/O Conference, where it was named "Emerging Company of the Year in I/O Technology." The company plans to begin beta testing of its server implementation next month; NAS testing is expected by mid-year. Look for NAS shipments in early 2003.

Sanera Systems

Sunnyvale, CA-based Sanera Systems is developing what it describes as "a next-generation director-class switch with small-switch behavior."

The company, which is still in stealth mode, claims its new architecture addresses several problems with existing switches and directors, most notably in the areas of manageability, port utilization, and topology challenges related to increasing port counts.

"We're attacking this problem set from the high end, from the data center," says Patrick Harr, vice president of marketing at Sanera. The company is reportedly developing an architecture that will scale to support 500 multi-protocol ports at speeds of up to 10Gbps.

According to market researcher International Data Corp., the average port count per box for directors was 52.4 last year, versus 33.1 in 2000. IDC expects director-class switches to see the largest port growth through 2004 (see figure).

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While specifics are few, Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm, in Milford, MA, says end users can expect a variety of new multiple-protocol, intelligent switches from a variety of newcomers, including Maranti, Pirus Networks, Rhapsody, and Sanera.

"These vendors have designed their products to not only be high-speed, high-availability, multi-protocol switches, but they have also built in a lot of intelligence that isn't inherent in current vendors' products," says Marrone. Specifically, she says to look for vendors to include features such as data replication and mirroring, virtualization, and even auto-provisioning in the switches.

Sanera has not disclosed when it will ship product.

Storigen

While some start-ups are focusing on core storage issues within the data center, Lowell, MA-based start-up Storigen plans to bring data out of the data center closer to end users. Product launch is slated for this quarter.

"We're scaling out, not up," says Dave Isenberg, director of products at Storigen. "We need to get data out to where the end users are. Objects are getting bigger and bigger. It doesn't make sense to store all data in the data center."

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To that end, Storigen has developed a multi-purpose distributed storage system, or server, that sits on the edge of the network where it stores and delivers data to end users (see figure). Isenberg says this type of system will enable new data-intensive applications and services and will significantly reduce network costs (by moving data off the WAN and onto the LAN), improve network performance, and ease data management (through a separate module).

Key applications include network-based file sharing, e-learning, digital imaging, and online entertainment. Product pricing has not been established.

3PAR Data

3PAR Data is just one of several start-ups (e.g., Cereva, Panasas, Yotta Yotta, and Zambeel) expected to announce "utility-class" storage systems this year. The company, which is headquartered in Fremont, CA, says it will ship beta products within the next quarter.

Utility storage is defined as any enterprise- or carrier-class storage system or server that supports multiple users or departments and provisions storage to multiple applications. Management is done from a single, consolidated view.

The concept of "carrier-class" implies other features such as full fault-tolerance, security, and the ability to charge back individual users or departments for storage usage. Additionally, these systems will reportedly be able to set performance and capacity requirements based on the application type and its priority within an organization.

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According to a recent report from the Yankee Group, a market research firm in Boston, of the roughly $2.3 billion invested by venture capital firms in storage start-ups since the beginning of 2000, $661 million has gone to developers of next-generation storage systems. This market includes next-generation NAS devices and converged NAS-SAN storage systems as well as utility storage.

Analysts like the Yankee Group's Jamie Gruener say this market segment bears close watch this year. "Enterprise and service provider customers must pay close attention to this segment of the market, since many of the technologies cultivated here will become mainstream over the next several years," writes Gruener in Network Storage Market Overview: The Convergence of SAN and NAS.

3PAR Data CEO Dave Scott believes the company's utility storage system will bring new scalability, performance, and usage options to a broad range of uses, including enterprise-class financial service, transportation, telecommunication, pharmaceutical, and collaborative commerce companies, as well as service providers.

"Users need to accommodate multiple applications on one system," says Scott. "For example, they need one system that can do data analysis and OLTP at the same time."

Voltaire

Like InfiniCon, Voltaire has set its eyes on the emerging InfiniBand market. The company, which is headquartered in Bedford, MA, recently secured funding to further develop and bring its secured funding to further develop and bring an intelligent IP to InfiniBand router, based on its TCP Termination Architecture, to server markets this quarter and to storage markets later this quarter.

"There's much more happening within storage companies around InfiniBand than you can imagine, especially with regard to NAS appliances," says Asaf Somekh, director of marketing at Voltaire. Somekh says that initial orders for the company's router were placed by storage, not server, companies.

There are a lot of similarities between database clusters (InfiniBand's first target market) and NAS architectures, says Somekh. "After all, what is NAS but a bunch of servers with optimized operating systems?"

Somekh expects storage vendors to roll out InfiniBand-enabled devices in phases, beginning in the second half of the year. InfiniBand will first be used as an internal backplane in NAS appliances and then as ports (on the NAS device) that connect directly to server clusters and bypass TCP/IP altogether, he predicts.

Voltaire claims its router approach is more efficient than bridging or tunneling alternatives. The key difference, says Somekh, is that Voltaire terminates TCP/IP traffic inside the router and then initiates socket direct protocol (SDP) into the InfiniBand fabric. Also, unlike VI, its implementation doesn't require any special drivers for the applications.

This combination, claims Somekh, will allow end users to preserve InfiniBand's reliability, scalability, and performance benefits.

Z-force

Costa Mesa, CA, start-up Z-force is gearing up to change the course of the NAS market with its "file switch" technology.

"While most of the 'next-gen' vendors are building single-system-image NAS boxes based on clustered file systems," says Enterprise Storage Group's Steve Duplessie, "Z-force is tackling the problem from an entirely different perspective: Forget about the file-system back-end. Put the brains at the switch layer, and you can use any CIFS/NFS devices you want on the back-end."

In concept, the file switch is similar to RAID controllers and Web switches used today in hard-drive and server markets, respectively. The idea is to turn a cluster of NAS devices into a single, scalable, higher-performing NAS array (see figure).

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"Clustered NAS architectures have run out steam," contends Vladimir Miloushev, president and CEO of Z-force. "Companies using this aging technology face severe manageability and performance issues and cannot cost-effectively increase storage capacity."

The company claims its switch technology addresses all of these issues and can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of existing products. The file switches are usually implemented in pairs for fault-tolerance; additional switches can be used at remote locations to reduce latency between primary and remote sites.

Each array is managed as a single file system, which allows for non-disruptive upgrades, and supports capacities to 128TB and speeds to 2400MBps. Any CIFS or NFS device can be connected to the device.


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