The rumor mill has been working overtime since EMC’s Joe Tucci first uttered the word “Maui” last November, hinting at a new storage platform for managing distributed, unstructured data. Some of EMC’s competitors and the trade press went as far as to say the project was dead.

Today, EMC silenced the naysayers with the launch of EMC Atmos, Maui’s official product moniker and a new cloud storage platform that uses metadata policies and commodity hardware to store and manage petabytes of globally distributed information from a single location.

Atmos is aimed at Web 2.0 companies, Internet providers, telecommunications, media, and entertainment companies looking to build and deliver cloud-based storage services on a massive scale.

The secret sauce is in the Atmos software. The system is object-based and uses customizable metadata policies to determine how data is distributed and managed.

Frequently accessed or current data can be tagged as “premium” and therefore require more copies in more locations than information that is older and accessed less frequently. Conversely, older information can be compressed and retained with fewer copies in fewer locations.

Additional features, including replication, versioning, compression, de-duplication, and disk drive spin-down, are built into the Atmos policy engine.

The system features automated management and auto-healing capabilities, a unified namespace and browser-based administrator tools, and multi-tenant support enabling multiple applications to be served securely and separately from the same infrastructure.

The platform comprises a set of industry standard x86 servers running the Atmos software in a distributed fashion with underlying 3U storage enclosures that use 15 1TB SATA drives.

Atmos is available today in three configurations with different capacity points of 120TB, 240TB, and 360TB.

EMC has not disclosed pricing information for Atmos, but John Martin, EMC’s director of product management for cloud infrastructure, claims the system is “extremely competitive in the multi-petabyte range.”

He says, “The difference between Atmos and traditional storage architectures is that it is distributed around the globe with all locations acting as a single storage infrastructure with a unified namespace that spans them all.”

Martin says EMC is creating a new category in the storage market called cloud optimized storage (COS). Other vendors that offer high-bandwidth, high-performance, scale-out systems for file sharing and file serving environments beg to differ, but Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Terri McClure says there is some truth to EMC’s statement.

McClure says the majority of today’s clustered storage architectures are designed to scale up to hundreds of nodes within the walls of a single data center. In contrast, Atmos is built to scale for file storage and distribution with up to hundreds of locations, yet still be managed as a single system.

“Most scale-out architectures are designed for high-bandwidth, large file sharing and high performance computing [HPC]. Atmos is not HPC file storage redeployed to a new use case; it is designed from the ground up for use over the Internet,” McClure explains. “It is a centrally managed distributed architecture and not a local file system with a global namespace.”

According to McClure, Atmos cannot be directly compared to other scale-out, clustered storage platforms such as Hewlett-Packard’s StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100) or Isilon Systems’ IQ X-Series family, nor is it similar to cloud storage services such as Amazon’s S3. McClure says the closest competition comes from smaller vendors such as Nirvanix, which offers the Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network based on its Internet Media File System (IMFS), a geo-clustered file system.

“There are a couple of cloud start-ups that do this type of thing, but it takes a heavyweight like EMC to create a category,” says McClure.

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