Start-up delivers out-of-band virtualization

By Lisa Coleman

Citing limitations to in-band virtualization, MonoSphere claims its out-of-band approach to storage virtualization does not cause single points of failure, does not use host CPU cycles, and can talk to storage area networks (SANs), network-attached storage (NAS), and direct-attached storage (DAS)--a key differentiator from its competitors, according to some analysts.

The Redwood City, CA-based start-up recently released MonoSphere Storage Manager (MSM) v2.0, a software suite that runs on Windows NT servers. The software consolidates storage into one or more centrally managed dynamic storage pools. MSM is deployed as an out-of-band (outside the data path) application installed on a dedicated server attached to the network.

The out-of-band approach avoids potential problems faced by some of its competitors, claims Ray Villeneuve, CEO of MonoSphere and former vice president of marketing at Network Appliance. He contends (and competitors deny) that in-band virtualization can cause single points of failure, burn CPU cycles, and limit performance scalability.

However, latency associated with in-band virtualization has not been a problem, according to some of MonoSphere's competitors' customers, says Dianne McAdam, senior analyst and partner at the Data Mobility Group. In addition, in-band virtualization vendors are moving toward high availability and clustering to tackle the point-of-failure issue.

The key differentiator between MonoSphere's software and its competitors is the ability to access SAN, NAS, and DAS, claims McAdam.

"Because it's out-of-band, it's not in the middle of the fabric. It can talk to SAN, NAS, and direct-attached storage. That's the differentiator. By being out-of-band, it doesn't matter what the architecture is or whose devices you've got," says McAdam.

The MSM software is priced at one to two cents per managed megabyte, depending on the level of functionality. The software supports Windows NT/2000 and Solaris.

MSM includes a driver, data mover, and an out-of-band storage manager that allows users to visualize the environment and I/O utilization at the block level. Administrators can set provisioning policies, while the software handles migration, mirroring, and other functions. The driver either passively collects I/O statistics or can re-direct data. The data mover is a dedicated CPU that executes data migration algorithms for offloading host CPUs.

Users will need to add one or more data movers once they reach about 50 servers or 5TB. This is a "rough rule of thumb" for users with high-throughput environments, says Roger LeMay, director of marketing at MonoSphere.

This article was originally published on July 22, 2003