EMC rounds out virtualization

Posted on October 01, 2005

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Rainfinity buy provides NAS virtualization

By Ann Silverthorn

EMC recently completed the acquisitions of two San Jose-based companies-Rainfinity and the intellectual property of Maranti Networks. Financial terms of the Rainfinity acquisition were not disclosed, but an EMC spokesperson confirmed that the price tag was “less than $100 million.” Rumor has it that Maranti’s assets went for approximately $5 million, although EMC officials declined to comment. Maranti was a start-up that manufactured intelligent switches.

The acquisition of Rainfinity expands EMC’s storage virtualization strategy. In May, EMC introduced its Invista platform for virtualizing SANs at the block level. However, the rapid growth of unstructured file-based information has end users looking for virtualization products for their NAS and file-system environments, in addition to SANs. A report from the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) states that “EMC’s investment in Rainfinity is a testament to the increasing popularity of-and growing need for-NAS virtualization [see ‘EMC picks up Rainfinity, expands virtualization support,’ www.enterprise strategygroup.com].”

In an end-user survey conducted by ESG, 61% of the respondents said they were “interested” or “very interested” in virtualization (see figure).

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ESG refers to Rainfinity’s technology as “NAS virtualization,” although other consulting firms such as the Taneja Group (www.tanejagroup.com) refer to it as “network file management (NFM),” while others refer to it as “file virtualization.” Rainfinity competes primarily with vendors such as Acopia Networks, NeoPath Networks, and NuView. (Network Appliance resells NuView’s software.)

For more information on NAS virtualization, see “NAS virtualization simplifies file management,” p. 18, which provides an overview of the technology, an examination of the end-user benefits, and a review of all the vendors and products in this space.

Rainfinity’s RainStorage provides virtualization for file-based data and combines network file virtualization with purpose-built application functionality to optimize networked storage by “identifying, analyzing, and resolving performance, capacity, and usage bottlenecks,” according to the ESG report.

Analysts say that the addition of RainStorage file virtualization to EMC’s NAS products-the NS700 and Celerra series as well as Invista-gives EMC the most comprehensive set of virtualization solutions in the industry. According to the ESG report, by analyst Heidi Biggar, “NAS virtualization fills a big void for EMC.” Biggar says that while providing network file virtualization, RainStorage also addresses code upgrade issues with EMC’s Celerra and provides non-disruptive data migration, strengthening EMC’s position against Network Appliance.

In her comments regarding the possible integration of the Invista and RainStorage platforms, Biggar says that “while the idea of integrating the two virtualization platforms is great in theory, it will probably be a long time before anything concrete happens along these lines. EMC needs to get Invista out the door first and needs to fully develop RainStorage’s global namespace capabilities.” NAS virtualization platforms aggregate disparate file systems in a common pool, providing users with a single, unified view (or global namespace) of multi-filer NAS environments.

EMC officials say that Rainfinity, founded in 1998, was attractive because its technology enables files (Windows, Unix, or Linux) to be dynamically relocated between homogeneous or heterogeneous NAS platforms. That allows IT administrators to optimize their NAS environments non-disruptively and to create tiers of storage. Consolidation can occur while users still have access to their information.

Rainfinity’s global namespace capabilities (which are not unique among NAS virtualization vendors) were also a selling point. A global namespace masks the complexity and allows administrators to move data with no disruption to users or applications.

According to an ESG survey, 76% of respondents say that virtualization simplifies the management of their storage resources, 49% say virtualization reduces overall storage hardware spending, and 47% say that it improves their ability to provision storage capacity (see figure).

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“While users are increasingly asking for fabric-based virtualization, the market is still in its very early stages,” says Biggar. “It makes sense to run storage services, such as virtualization and replication, in the fabric but it will likely be a slow evolutionary process. In the meantime, the ability to migrate data among heterogeneous NAS devices is important for EMC, as is addressing the upgrade issues with Celerra.”

Since last spring, EMC has been reselling Rainfinity’s RainStorage product through its EMC Select Program. EMC has also been reselling NuView’s StorageX product and will continue to sell it through the EMC Select Program.

EMC’s acquisition of Maranti, which had raised $57 million in venture capital funding since it was founded in 2000, led to more questions than answers. EMC did not provide details about its plans for Maranti’s intelligent switch technology, but some analysts predict that the intellectual property will eventually end up in EMC’s Invista platform.

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