Adaptec ships file array, acquires Symbios
Zachary Shess and Dave Simpson
Adaptec this month will begin shipping the first product in its "file array" approach to RAID controllers, which was broadly outlined at last Fall`s Comdex. The Windows NT-compatible AFA-333 FileArray Accelerator card is a 32-bit PCI-to-SCSI bus master DMA adapter with a synchronous SCSI data rate of 80MBps.
The key to file array technology is that the controller operates at the file level, as opposed to the block level. Traditional RAID controllers operate at the block level and rely on host servers to process I/O requests.
According to Steve Marchesano, marketing manager for Adaptec`s FileArray Solutions business unit, the primary advantages of file array technology are increased performance and a significant reduction in the downtime required for storage management tasks. For example, users can create snapshot backups without interrupting access to data.
Adaptec bundles with the accelerator card its FileArray software, which includes a proprietary file system that works with the NT file system, RAID software, and drivers. FileArray Storage Tool (FAST) software is also bundled for on-line storage configuration and management.
File array technology addresses two key trends: the migration of mission-critical applications to Windows NT, and the growing requirement for continuous access to data. Adaptec`s accelerator card is aimed primarily at OEMs and storage integrators, and has been in beta test at PC vendors such as IBM and Micron Electronics.
Adaptec is first to market with file array technology, but the company may face competition down the road. For example, Tricord is developing what it calls "file-aware" or "file-intelligent" technology that also operates at the file, as opposed to block, level.
According to Ed Ambrose, director of software development, Tricord`s technology will offer a number of advantages over Adaptec`s. For one, he claims, Tricord`s technology is built on top of the I2O standard. In addition, it`s based on a distributed file system that can span multiple controllers, treating all storage as a virtual pool available to all processors. Tricord`s technology is set to go into beta testing within a month or two, but company officials admit that it won`t reach end-users until some time next year.
Separately, Adaptec is nearing its acquisition of Symbios Inc., a deal that was announced in February. The financial crisis in South Korea may have played a role in the relatively sudden sale of Symbios to Adaptec by its parent company, Hyundai Electronics America. According to Bloomberg News, the South Korean government asked Hyundai and other conglomerates to spin off superfluous subsidiaries and focus on core businesses.
Subsequently, when Adaptec announced the purchase of Symbios for $775 million in cash, one analyst called it a "fire sale price." While Adaptec officials did not agree with that characterization, "there was an emphasis on speed" in completing the sale, according to Bruce Frymire, director of worldwide public relations at Adaptec. Frymire said their first contact with bankers from Hyundai came just three weeks before the sale was announced. Adaptec was interested in purchasing Symbios in 1995, but had no immediate plans to buy the company at the beginning of this year.
By acquiring Symbios, Adaptec will obtain a leading chipset and storage subsystem vendor. Adaptec plans to diversify and move into what they perceive are complementary parts of the storage subsystem business, both in product and distribution methods.
Adaptec is particularly anxious to gain Symbios` RAID business through their MetaStor division. Most of Symbios` 2,500 employees are expected to retain their jobs. Once federal regulators approve the acquisition, Adaptec will complete the purchase by buying all of Symbios` remaining stock for cash, using some of Adaptec`s cash reserves and borrowed capital. Regulatory approval is expected next month.