Maranti touts 'application-aware controllers'

By Dave Simpson

More than a year after it was expected to begin shipments, start-up Maranti Networks last month released its CoreSTOR Adaptive Storage Services Platforms, which the company generically refers to as network storage services controllers. The company originally referred to the devices as application-aware switches, but is now walking a fine line in positioning itself against a variety of potential competitors.

According to Rick Walsworth, director of product marketing at Maranti, the company competes on the low-end with storage area network (SAN) appliance/virtualization vendors such as DataCore and FalconStor. Higher up the food chain, Maranti is expected to compete with Brocade, Cisco, and McData when those companies deliver switches/directors that can host storage applications (see "Veritas ports VM to Cisco switches," p. 1).

In addition to those potential competitors, analysts such as Dragon Slayer Consulting's Marc Staimer say that CoreSTOR may compete more directly with EMC's DMX arrays and software, Hitachi Data Systems' Lightning arrays and software, and a device from newcomer Cloverleaf (see "Cloverleaf targets large SAN/NAS shops," this page).

Harish Nayak, Maranti's vice president of marketing, claims that the company's CoreSTOR devices can operate in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, existing SAN switches.

"Our product has a switching backplane, but we refer to it as a network controller," says Nayak. "Our value-add is in software and services." Optional software includes applications such as replication, mirroring, snapshots, and volume copying that work in heterogeneous environments. (In a configuration in which a CoreSTOR is coupled with existing switching devices it would sit between the switches/directors and storage devices.)

In differentiating its controllers from potential competitors, Maranti's common theme is distributed, port-level processing of integrated services and applications. In other words, services can be programmed to each port on a volume-by-volume basis, according to Nayak, who claims advantages in the areas of scalability, availability, and performance. (The company claims more than six million "virtualized" I/Os per second and a latency of less than 30 microseconds on its high-end configuration.)

"At every port we can define QoS [quality of service] profiles that are directly mapped to applications [e.g., Exchange, SQL Server, Oracle, ERP, etc.] with provisioned storage," Nayak explains. "QoS can be based on bandwidth, availability, and/or security characteristics." Cisco recently introduced similar features in the latest version of its management software.

"With processors at every port, [CoreSTOR] can evaluate a packet as it arrives and automatically apply storage services on a packet-by-packet basis," explains Nancy Marrone-Hurley, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, "and the architecture provides a level of performance that will be difficult for vendors with blade-based technologies to compete with."

Among other potential differentiators, Maranti officials cite pass-thru virtualization, a policy-based single-step provisioning process, "virtual storage domains," and the fact that its software was designed specifically for the company's hardware (as opposed to being host-based software that was ported to a switch or director).

The hardware is available in two versions: the 3U 8/16-port CoreSTOR 2000 and the 18U 128-port director-class CoreSTOR 3000.

Both share common electronics and a code base and support Fibre Channel and iSCSI, but the model 3000 is based on a crossbar fabric architecture.

Maranti claims compatibility with the leading switches and directors, as well as with host bus adapters from Emulex and QLogic.

Pricing starts at $35,000 for an 8-port model 2000, without software. Maranti plans to sell primarily through OEMs and resellers, although at press time the company did not have any OEM agreements and only one reseller deal—with Bell Microproducts and its Rorke Data and Total Tec Systems divisions.

Analysts note that Maranti will need more partners to compete with established players. Dianne McAdam, a senior analyst and partner with the Data Mobility Group, says that although Maranti has a shot at competing with the big players, "the problem they'll have is getting their name in front of customers.

"Cisco has a very large sales force and big partners, and Brocade and McData have numerous partnerships, so Maranti will have to develop a lot of partnerships to compete," she adds.

This article was originally published on January 01, 2004