StorageQuest breaks down DAS, NAS barriers


With all the talk of Fibre Channel and storage area networks (SANs), it's easy to lose sight of the fact that, to date, less than one-quarter of all companies have actually implemented SANs. It is this reality that prompted Ontario, Canada-based StorageQuest to position its recently announced Multiservices Storage Manager (MSM) technology in direct-attached storage (DAS) and network-attached storage (NAS) markets.

"Most storage configurations today are either DAS or NAS," says Mike Hornby, StorageQuest's vice president of marketing and sales. "There isn't anything in our architecture that prevents us from playing in SANs, but we're a small company so for now, we're setting our sights on DAS and NAS."

The four-year-old vendor of storage connectivity and management products is seeking funding to finance further research and development. The company is led by Marwan Zayed, former president of KOM Networks.

An integrated hardware and software box, MSM works with most server platforms and storage device types (e.g., disk, tape, and optical) and most third-party applications. This combination, claims Hornby, can facilitate data management, administration, and archiving in DAS and NAS environments.

"We're betting that MSM's open architecture will break down proprietary boundaries in the storage industry," says Hornby. In the DAS world, this means users will not only be able to hang onto legacy systems, but they also will be able to achieve a new level of storage usage and communication by integrating MSM into their existing environments, he says.

Central to these claims are MSM's virtualization and emulation capabilities. By virtualization, StorageQuest means the ability to take disparate storage components and applications and make them appear as a single, manageable unit.

"You can think of MSM as a storage virtualization subset," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm, in Milford, MA. "It's really designed to work in a DAS model, making multiple different devices look like a single drive to the host system."

Hornby says MSM can be similarly used in NAS environments to pool disparate NAS devices over a LAN into a single logical pool. The system supports NFS and CIFS or the blending of the two.

"We allow you to take either the entire NFS or CIFS tree structure, or a portion of various subdirectories, and create your own namespace, which maps to the various NAS devices on the back-end," explains Rob Oakley, StorageQuest's chief technology officer. This allows users to transparently blend NFS and CIFS namespaces for mirroring.

The NAS back-end can also be used as a dedicated channel for backup and recovery. The device is NDMP-compliant and supports serverless backup.

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MSM's emulation capabilities allow users to connect virtually any type of storage media into their storage environment. For example, any DAS that is connected to an MSM device can communicate with NAS servers, and vice versa. Similarly, two DAS and RAID boxes, or a DAS device and an optical system, can communicate via an MSM device.

"We try to make it so that any device can talk to any other device as long as it goes through our box in the LAN," explains Oakley. "In doing so, we open up the gates to connecting to pretty much any type of storage media you want."

The MSM device comes in a 2U form factor and has 1TB of on-board storage (900GB in a RAID-5 configuration) on six hot-swappable 180GB disk drives. The device works in Linux or Windows environments and features on-board caching; a distributed arbitrary mapping capability that enables it to support (in read mode) non-proprietary optical file systems (e.g., UDF and DOS), and a Web interface for configuration, monitoring, and diagnosis. Multiple MSMs can also be configured into "subnets" to eliminate single points of failure.

StorageQuest says it plans to add support for iSCSI and hierarchical storage management (HSM) in the next release (v2.1), which is due in the first quarter. Prices range from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on configuration.

A closer look at MSM

StorageQuest's Multiservices Storage Manager includes three network interface cards (NICs), one SCSI dual-channel host adapter, and three expansion slots for additional SCSI cards or NICs.

The three NICs enable users to create dedicated back channels for secure backup/restore to on- or off-site locations. For improved performance and load balancing, users can configure the NICs with dual channels on the client side.

The device's "any-to-any" architecture allows subsystems that previously could not communicate to work together seamlessly. For example, direct-attached storage devices can communicate with network-attached storage (NAS) appliances, and NAS file systems can be blended such that an NFS device can communicate with a CIFS box, and vice versa.

This article was originally published on December 01, 2001