Start-up spins a 'compelling' story

By Heidi Biggar

In a storage market in which point products abound, the idea of being able to buy a services-rich storage system from a single vendor may be welcome news to many end users, particularly those squeezed by tight budgets and demanding data requirements.

That's the game plan for Compellent Technologies, a two-year-old start-up in Minneapolis. The company recently began shipments of its Storage Center modular disk array and integrated storage applications, which the company is targeting at small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

"Our tactical strategy is to hit the market with a product that provides midrange companies with enterprise-level storage capabilities without enterprise-level costs or complexities," says Gary Orenstein, vice president of marketing at Compellent.

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Among other things, the company claims that its Storage Center system can help users cut storage expenditures in half by allocating space only after data is written, leverage lower storage costs by migrating data among disk classes (e.g., Fibre Channel, SCSI, Serial ATA), recover data in minutes through the use of a Data Instant Replay feature, and replicate data quickly and inexpensively among multiple locations.

"Compellent brings some interesting differentiation to the market, starting with proprietary block-level management capabilities that let users create SAN [storage area network] building blocks that can essentially morph on-the-fly," says Brad O'Neill, a senior analyst and consultant at the Taneja Group analyst firm.

The building block structure that O'Neill refers to is Storage Center's Dynamic Block Architecture. Through a special write algorithm, the architecture is able to unify traditionally separate components—such as tiered storage management, storage and SAN management, backup and recovery, replication, volume management, virtualization, and RAID—under a single management interface, without installing any server agents (see figure). While these functions, or services, are all integrated into the Storage Center system, users only license them as they need them (i.e., the services can be turned on/off).

In addition to supporting integrated storage services, the Dynamic Block Architecture allows users to mix a variety of front-end interfaces (e.g., Fibre Channel or iSCSI) as well as back-end disk technologies (Fibre Channel, SCSI, and Serial ATA) and form factors.

According to one user, the decision to go with Storage Center versus a number of other midrange disk arrays, including EMC's CLARiiON, boiled down to software functionality. "It got down to the software that came with the array," says Don Himsl, director of IS at CNS, the manufacturer of Breathe Right brand nasal strips. "[In terms of physical hardware], all the arrays were very similar."

According to Himsl, the initial decision to implement a SAN based on Storage Center systems was driven by the company's need to replace all 15 of its servers. "We were running into problems with our direct-attached storage [DAS] environment," says Himsl. "We had way too much storage capacity to begin with [much of which was under-utilized] and we were running into problems trying to guess how much capacity we would need."

Implementing a Storage Center-based SAN (which includes a McDATA switch) not only met CNS's requirement for dynamic capacity allocation, but it also gave them both RAID-5 and RAID-10 capability and the ability to make snapshots and do instant replays.

"Storage Center made it really easy to expand volumes," says Himsl. While dynamic capacity provisioning is not unique to Compellent, Himsl says that the simplicity of Compellent's approach stood out. "Other products had it, but you had to buy something else to get it." CNS is currently managing about 1.2TB of data in its Storage Center SAN.

Says Taneja Group's O'Neill: "Compellent has wrapped its architecture with a software suite that answers 90% of [what SMEs need], and they've also added some advanced features like tunable replication and block-level rollback recovery that you wouldn't expect out of a midrange solution."

Storage Center SAN is available through the channel from Compellent's partners, which include Aegis Consulting, Best Data Strategies, Ciber, Clear North Technologies, Convergent Storage Solutions, Covenant Technologies, The Davenport Group, Eagle Software, Enterprise Storage Solutions, Future 2000 Systems, Global Document Services, Greenwich Technology Partners, Kraft Kenney & Lessor, Logisolve, LVTS, NovaStor Solutions, Winslow Technology Group, and Xcedex Consulting Service.

Compellent's Dynamic Block Architecture unifies traditionally separate components under a single management interface that spans underlying technologies.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2004