BY HEIDI BIGGAR
While other vendors are largely focusing on storage area network (SAN) applications, Minneapolis-based Tricord Systems last month announced plans to bring "aggregation" technology-a type of virtualization software-to the server appliance market later this quarter.
Initial applications include traditional and emerging market segments such as network-attached storage (NAS), Web serving, Web caching, and video streaming. The overall server appliance market is expected to reach $12 billion by 2004, according to International Data Corp. (IDC).
Similar to file-system-level virtualization technologies currently offered in the SAN space by vendors such as DataDirect Networks and IBM/Tivoli (see Special Report in this issue, p. 20), Tricord's Illumina aggregation software re-maps data from physical to logical addresses. However, unlike some of the SAN appliance virtualization products, Illumina also re-allocates data across multiple devices-initially, its own Lunar Flare NAS appliances-and then manages those devices and the data on them as a single entity (see diagram on p. 15).
"Aggregation is both virtualization and then data management in a virtual environment," says Joan Wrabetz, Tricord president and CEO.
Tricord's aggregation software not only decides where to put files, but also breaks them up and, similar to RAID environments, stripes pieces of them across multiple Lunar Flare appliances for fault tolerance, Wrabetz explains.
Illumina software allows users to aggregate multiple Lunar Flare NAS appliances into a single, shared cluster, which is managed as a single entity.
According to Robert Gray, IDC's research director, Tricord's architecture is the nexus of three trends: the rising cost of storage management, the increasing importance of data, and the exponential growth of storage. "It's designed for companies that have lots of storage, need it to grow, and need it to be highly available," he says.
Other benefits include seamless scalability without architectural limits, balanced resource growth (data is spread evenly among appliances), minimal management, and low cost of ownership ($5,700 per appliance, or $0.04 per megabyte).
"Its cost per megabyte is an order of magnitude lower than what has been out in the NAS market," says Rick Bauer, CEO of The Hill School, an independent school for grades nine through 12. Additionally, Bauer points to the technology's scalability and fault-tolerant features as swaying influences in the school's decision to participate in Tricord's beta testing program.
Hill's current configuration includes four Illumina-equipped Lunar Flare appliances, which are earmarked for data being generated by the school's video-editing program. Bauer has placed an order for 10 additional appliances to increase the program's managed capacity to nearly 2TB.
As for applying the technology to other applications such as e-mail, Bauer replies, "It's one thing to have storage; it's another to throw it behind one of your mission-critical processes like our Exchange Server." For now, Bauer continues to back up the school's e-mail server onto a Network Appliance NAS filer.
Hill's IT infrastructure also includes an HP SureStore 6000 for video archiving and an ADIC StorNext tape-based NAS device largely for offline storage.
A minimum Tricord aggregation configuration consists of two 135GB Lunar Flare appliances, which are mirrored for fault-tolerance. In larger configurations, one device is designated the "parity" appliance, onto which data is striped for increased data protection. Each cluster supports up to 16 nodes for a maximum 1.7TB of capacity.
When additional devices, or nodes, are added, data is automatically distributed evenly among existing appliances with minimal management and no downtime. If a node fails, data remains available to clients through RAID reconstruction, and data is rebuilt on the hot-spare node.
Tricord's appliances are currently designed only for Windows NT/2000 environments and the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol, although support for Unix environments running the Network File System (NFS) protocol is due in the future. The company plans to license the software to other NAS vendors.