Start-ups address end-user pain points

Products target data movement, NAS migration, replication
By Heidi Biggar

A trio of newcomers is attempting to break through the cacophony of start-up announcements with products they claim address common shortcomings of mainstream alternatives. The three companies—Arkivio, Rainfinity, and Topio—say they have developed better ways to move, migrate, and replicate data, respectively.

"End users are looking for ways to better utilize their storage assets and to take advantage of their low-cost storage," says Russ Walker, vice president of marketing at Arkivio, in Mountain View, CA.

In September, Arkivio released its auto-stor storage management software. The software, which has storage resource management (SRM) and hierarchical storage management (HSM)-like attributes, will automate data movement in SAN, NAS, or DAS environments based on user-specified criteria. Current support is limited to NAS (CIFS only), but broader support is expected early next year.

"It matches up data with the proper storage resource," explains Walker. "It puts data where it needs to be in the network and then continually analyzes that data and available storage resources at the file-system level, storing less-valued data on lower-cost systems [e.g., ATA arrays] and more highly valued data on higher-end systems."

The software monitors data usage patterns and assigns a "data value score" (based on factors like device availability, resource usage, and data usage) to the data, explains Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group. If the data reaches a pre-determined "score," a policy is enacted to move the data to a more appropriate device in the network.

Walker claims that auto-stor can boost storage utilization rates into the 70% to 80% range, which minimizes wasted disk space and can help users defer future storage purchases. In particular, the software benefits IT organizations with on-site ATA disk or Windows-based NAS servers because it gives them a non-manual way of managing and load-balancing data on those devices, he explains.

Additionally, the software can lower future storage acquisition costs (by allowing users to purchase a less-expensive mix of devices) and help lower overall storage management costs.

George Farrall, executive vice president of business development at Allegra Systems, an applications service provider in Piscataway, NJ, has been testing Arkivio's auto-stor software since July. He says that while he considered products from BMC and TeamQuest, he ultimately chose auto-stor because of its intelligent policy engine.

"The coolest thing about the product," says Farrall, "is how it lets you add NAS boxes to your environment without having to re-map applications or inform users. It saved us time and money, and clients had no idea their images had been moved."

Pricing for auto-stor starts at $35,000 per terabyte of managed capacity. The software resides on two places in the network: on a dual-processor Windows 2000 server, which handles data movement, and on participating application servers.

Let it rain

Start-up Rainfinity recently jumped into the storage market with the announcement of RainStorage, a storage router for non-disruptive NAS migration.

Separately, Rainfinity also reported that it has teamed up with Network Appliance to improve data migration in NetApp environments.

"Users want to consolidate file servers on NAS filers, move more-active projects to faster filers, replace old filers with newer models, balance loads, and move power users off heavily loaded filers, but they haven't been able to because of the associated downtime with these processes," says Jack Norris, vice president of marketing at Rainfinity, in San Jose.

Norris says that while alternatives such as Network Appliance's SnapMirror and SAN-based solutions are good for synchronous mirroring and volume-level migrations, respectively, they're not good data movers. Why? Because synchronous mirroring doesn't eliminate downtime and SAN-based solutions don't let you do granular migrations, claims Norris. RainStorage allows users to do both.

The key is its "reliable array of independent nodes" (RAIN) architecture, which is also the foundation of the company's high-availability security and connectivity product lines (RainWall and RainConnect). The technology enables the router, which sits between servers and NAS devices, to handle multiple data migrations (of varying size) concurrently and without server or client downtime.

To ensure data integrity during the migration process, clients continue to mount to filers, not RainStorage's virtual volumes. Also, source files (including updates) are kept intact until the migration process is complete and pending transactions and history are stored on mirrored, hot-swappable SCSI disks in the router.

Rainfinity recommends one RainStorage device for every five to 10 filers, or one or two devices per location. It says its sweet spot is enterprises with four or more filers and 1TB of storage.

Each RainStorage device has dual Intel processors, 4GB of SDRAM memory, 4Gbps connectivity, dual power supplies, and mirrored SCSI disks. The RainStorage 1.1 application runs on a version of Linux 2.4 within the router. No additional software is required. The device currently supports NFS. (CIFS access is possible, but not without downtime.)

Pricing is $80,000, including a three-year warranty, support, and service. The company is selling the product direct to its installed base of more than 300 customers and through OEMs, most notably Network Appliance.

Going the distance

Also in September, three-year-old start-up Topio announced availability of its SANSafe disaster-recovery and replication software for Windows 2000 and Solaris environments. Support for AIX, HP-UX, and Linux is slated for next year.

With SANSafe, users can replicate data over long-distance IP networks to disparate arrays. For example, one of Topio's customers is using the technology to replicate data across Europe and from Boston to New York.

SANSafe replicates data asynchronously and buffers data to ensure all writes are written sequentially. This eliminates issues with data consistency—a common problem with asynchronous replication.

"Overall, SANSafe is an innovative solution," says Enterprise Storage Group's Marrone. "It's almost so obvious that we wonder why no one's come up with this type of architecture before."

Marrone suggests that the industry's recent focus on disaster recovery may have led to renewed interest in developing solutions that address key replication issues (e.g., cost, distance, and data consistency). According to Gartner Inc., the disaster-recovery market, which is growing 38% annually, will represent a $6 billion market in 2006.

SANSafe competes with hardware and software options from vendors such as EMC (SRDF), NSI (Double-Take), and Veritas (Volume Manager). These products, claims Eric Herzog, vice president of marketing at Topio, tend to be more costly to implement (requiring dedicated lines, multiple disk arrays, and multiple copies of data), can lock users into a single vendor, and may have distance and data-consistency limitations.

Marrone says that while virtualization vendors allow users to replicate data between dissimilar storage arrays, they lack other SANSafe features.

SANSafe is an out-of-band appliance that sits above the virtualization layer. A software agent resides on the host server or in the SAN fabric at the user's primary site. The appliance supports heterogeneous SAN environments, storage systems, DAS, virtualization environments, and all networking environments. SANSafe is priced from $40,000 and $50,000 for Windows 2000 and Solaris environments, respectively.

This article was originally published on November 01, 2002