Start-ups take on SAN, NAS leaders

By Heidi Biggar

Storage start-ups 3PAR Data and Zambeel believe they have the products, services, and support in place to compete against a slew of other start-ups in addition to well-entrenched incumbents. 3PAR and Zambeel have developed products they claim address key issues (e.g., scaling and performance) with existing storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) architectures, respectively.

In final testing with 12 beta customers (including AIG, EDS, Net One Systems, Nissho Electronics, RagingWire, and Prudential Financial), 3PAR expects to make its "utility storage" server generally available by the end of this quarter. The company debuted the product at the recent Gartner PlanetStorage conference and secured $100 million in funding last July. Key investors include Oracle, Sun, and Veritas. YottaYotta is also expected to play in the utility storage space (see chart).

Click here to enlarge image

Analysts have identified utility storage as a new class of storage architecture. The Yankee Group, a market research firm in Boston, defines storage utilities as "fault-tolerant enterprise and carrier-class storage systems that support multiple customers or departments [or applications], provision storage for applications, can charge back for storage services, and have quality-of-service [QoS] support."

End users are facing a crisis of complexity, explains David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, in Fremont, CA. Faced with ballooning capacity demands and tightening IT budgets, system/storage administrators are forced to retrofit their existing storage architecture—by adding hardware or layering software—to meet storage and business objectives, he explains.

In a recent survey of 100 companies by Network World, respondents cited high capital costs (67%) and training costs (46%) as the primary drawbacks of today's SAN implementations. Respondents also cited insufficient capacity (51%), performance (36%), and port connections (35%) as reasons for purchasing multiple storage arrays.

Scott contends that 3PAR's utility storage servers not only enable users to consolidate their storage environment and better control multiple business applications, but also can significantly reduce total cost of ownership (TCO). He claims that companies can expect to see more than a $1 million per 10TB, or $0.23 per usable MB, savings over three years. This estimate assumes the same cost per raw megabyte for all vendors' storage devices.

3PAR says it designed its InSpire architecture, InServ hardware, and InForm software from the ground up to deliver always-on, sharable (among multiple applications and users), scalable storage. The key to the system's flexibility is its low-latency full-mesh backplane, according to Scott.

This type of backplane allows users to scale performance, capacity, and connectivity bi-directionally and independent of each other, which means users can avoid over-provisioning for multiple applications or I/O performance and growth, says Scott.

Other hardware features include an ultra-dense disk chassis (with support for up 40 drives and 6TB of capacity) and high-performance controllers, which feature a separate command and data path so that the device can support mixed (e.g., random and sequential) workloads simultaneously without tying a controller to a particular application.

On the software front, 3PAR says that it has come up with a centralized way of provisioning storage that is simpler and less costly than traditional approaches (i.e., installing volume management software on each host). By embedding its own clustering and volume management software in the operating system of each system controller, it is able to virtualize capacity at the physical disk, logical disk, and virtual-volume level, allowing users to assign specific logical disks or virtual volumes (that may have otherwise gone unused) to particular hosts or applications.

The company claims this type of approach will enable one administrator to manage more than 300TB of usable capacity per InServ server. The software is, however, compatible with all host-based volume managers.

Other software features include the ability to take hundreds of snapshots using only a fraction of the space of full physical copies; to establish multiple administrative pools with multiple permission levels; and to track physical and logical statistics, which can then be used to generate capacity and performance reports for specific applications and users. The next release is expected to add remote disaster replication capabilities, including the ability to mirror volumes locally or over wide-area networks (WANs).

3PAR will offer three InServ models: the S200 (for testing/application pilots and distributed replicated site deployments), the S400 (for OLTP/data warehousing and moderate central data archive), and the S800 (for large OLTP or data warehousing consolidation, large central data archive, and high-bandwidth applications). Pricing starts at about $100,000.

"Adaptive" NAS
3PAR neighbor Zambeel last month began shipping Aztera, an "adaptive" enterprise-class NAS architecture. Similar to 3PAR, Zambeel says that its approach addresses common scaling, provisioning, and support issues with traditional architectures.

"NAS came up from the low end...and has been developed with departmental capabilities [in mind]," says Praveen Asthana, vice president of marketing and business development. "So, users end up buying multiple NAS devices to meet their capacity or performance requirements."

Asthana says that Zambeel has solved the problem of "NAS creep" by developing an adaptive storage architecture that allows users to scale capacity and performance independently (separate compute and storage modules make this possible), provision capacity, performance, and throughput on an application-by-application basis (according to policies), and establish secure domains for shared application environments.

Each box is scalable in increments of 1.6TB or 2.4TB to hundreds of terabytes (across multiple cabinets) and supports hundreds to thousands of operations per second. A single-system, or virtual, view is presented to users. The base system starts at 3.2TB. Pricing was not available at press time.

While Zambeel considers its primary competitor to be Network Appliance, it says its approach is similar to that of Spinnaker Networks (see "New options may ease NAS management, improve scaling," p. 1).

Zambeel is selling its product direct but says it is also talking with various vendors about potential partnerships. The company has signed a support agreement with IBM Global Services that includes 24x7 call-center support, installation and hardware support in the US, and parts logistics support.

User Perspective

By Yatish Mishra
RagingWire Telecommunications

Yatish Mishra is president and chief technology officer at RagingWire Telecommunications, an IT solutions provider in Sacramento, CA, and a 3PAR beta customer. The company provides managed services and data-center infrastructures to large enterprises.

Q: Which 3PAR system are you testing and for what usage?
We are using 3PAR's InServ S400 four-node storage array. RagingWire requires high-performance systems that can handle multiple applications. We're also considering using 3PAR's data replication for disaster-recovery purposes.

Q: What are the advantages of the 3PAR system?
The array has helped us improve the performance and reliability of our storage environment, while simplifying its management. We have no planned or unplanned downtimes, and we're able to do in three commands what previously took 25 commands on competitors' products. By simplifying the management process, we're more time-efficient and have avoided errors. The system easily supports the management and provisioning of multiple clients, provides data security between clients on the same system, and offers accounting support for billing with no degradation in performance.

Q: What other products are you using?
RagingWire and our clients work with other providers, including EMC and Hitachi Data Systems. In fact, our enterprise clients currently use Hitachi's Lightning array to meet their data-intensive productivity needs. We are also beta testing a network-based virtualization storage device to address other unmet demands.

Q: Has the 3PAR system affected your TCO?
The greatest cost in storage is management. The 3PAR system reduces management and complexity with a single simple interface. This allows companies that cannot afford to scale staff linearly with customer growth to have fewer engineers. This translates into a lower cost of ownership.

This article was originally published on July 01, 2002