Coraid Seeks to Update Cloud Storage With Ethernet SAN

By Kenneth Corbin

With enterprises steadily expanding their cloud computing deployments, traditional Fibre Channel storage architectures are falling out of step with the elastic, scalable requirements that cloud and big data applications demand, according to Coraid, a startup specializing in alternative storage arrays.

Coraid's pitch is to pair commodity hardware and Ethernet with its own software to create an Ethernet SAN storage array it calls EtherDrive, for which it touts significant price savings and performance improvements over legacy storage.

"As enterprises adopt private cloud architectures, storage design is a critical consideration for cost, performance and manageability," said Coraid CEO Kevin Brown.

Coraid bills EtherDrive as a simple solution to operate and manage, positioning the technology as a natural fit for the increasing appetite among enterprises for flexible, scale-out infrastructure as they grapple with new storage challenges that arise with high-performance computing, virtualization, video and cloud computing.

"Fibre Channel has been the enterprise storage architecture of choice since the mainframe era, and legacy vendors are selling it as the ideal platform for cloud projects -- no surprise. However, legacy storage designs are an increasingly poor fit for the private cloud and big data projects that companies are building," Brown said.

"Storage is consuming upwards of 40 percent of IT budgets today, and causing about 80 percent of the migraines," he added.

Coraid argues that traditional mainframe architectures with tightly coupled hardware and software -- and a hefty price tag -- have run their course, particularly with Ethernet offering performance rates that exceed Fibre Channel speeds. But other, newer standards, such as FCoE and iSCSI, retain design elements of the legacy era and fail to deliver the performance required for networked storage to keep pace with the shifting currents of the on-demand computing model.

"Just as the server market moved from big iron to commodity x86 servers, we're seeing the network layer move towards commodity 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet, and the storage layer needs to move to a commodity, scale-out, elastic architecture," Brown said. "Legacy storage just can't get there."

The EtherDrive technology is designed in parallel to provide for linear scaling, meaning that additional SAN storage can, as needed, be integrated into the network while avoiding the traditional bottlenecks associated with storage build-outs. Further, Coraid equips each of its EtherDrive products with its own processor. This enables hosts across the network to address every array, thus providing the scalability the company has made a chief selling point.

By modeling the storage architecture after the elastic, automated style of the cloud while delivering a robust feature set and enterprise-grade performance, Coraid offers an appealing value proposition. In addition, the simplified scalability, reminiscent of layering on additional compute resources, promises to lower operating expenditures while delivering storage in a self-service, on-demand model.

"When we can deliver on this, while simultaneously handing back half of the customer's storage budget, things move pretty quickly," Brown said.

Coraid sells its solution in the form of hardware, software licenses and services, with the software standing as the key differentiator. Brown refers to this as the company's "special sauce."

He explained that Coraid operates in a "channel-centric model," maintaining close relationships with software and networking partners such as VMware, Veeam and Avaya.

Looking ahead, Brown sees strong growth in store for the company as more firms move to the cloud and data volume grows at roughly 50 percent annually. Brown noted Coraid's recent acquisition of cloud software vendor Yunteq, which brings a technology the company plans to use to further automate storage, security and networking for public and private clouds.

"Much as VMware transformed the compute layer and turned it into a dynamic system, we are doing the same for the storage and networking layers of the data center," he said. "Hundreds of regional providers are building clouds but don't have the time or the desire to build their own software. Coraid can provide a packaged offering that makes it easy to automate their infrastructure."

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here

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This article was originally published on May 16, 2012