Storage Soup


July 1, 2008  10:36 AM

QLogic boss says he’s too busy to quit

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

 QLogic CEO H.K. Desai had planned to step down this year, but says there is too much going on in the storage industry for him to leave now.

That’s why his heir apparent left QLogic in March, and QLogic isn’t looking for a replacement. “I’ll be hanging around for awhile,” Desai, who has been QLogic’s CEO since 1995 and its chairman since 1999, told me.

He wouldn’t have said that a year ago. QLogic hired Jeff Benck from IBM as COO and President in April 2007 with the understanding that he would replace Desai in a year. But Desai stayed put and Benck left QLogic – eventually signing on with its HBA rival Emulex as COO.

Desai says QLogic isn’t trying to replace Benck, because it doesn’t need to replace the CEO. “The whole plan was for us to have a long-term transition, and it didn’t work out,” Desai said. “I’ve been fully engaged the last few months and I expect to be fully engaged for awhile. I won’t even talk to the board [about a COO] unless we plan a transition, which I don’t expect to do.”

Desai said his change of heart came because the storage networking world is so busy now. The industry is in a transition to 8-Gbps Fibre Channel with Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and 16-gig FC coming up on its heels. QLogic is also trying to make inroads in InfiniBand. “There’s so much activity going on now, I don’t want to disturb anything,” he said. “Our team has been working together for so many years, and I don’t want to bring anybody in from the outside to disturb things. There’s a time to do a transition, and I don’t think this is the time.”

Of course, if Desai is looking for a lull in emerging storage technologies to retire he just might work forever.

July 1, 2008  10:33 AM

Ibrix gets a new leader

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Yesterday I met with Ibrix, a company I haven’t caught up with in a while. They seem to be doing well with movie production studios, and our meeting featured a screening of Wall-E, the latest picture from Ibrix customer Pixar.

Along the way, I was told that while his business cards still say VP of marketing and business development, Milan Shetti is actually the new president of Ibrix. The handover from former interim CEO Bernard Gilbert has happened over the last few days, according to Shetti. The CEO before Gilbert, Shaji John, remains chairman of the board.

“My gut is that if [Shetti] performs well over the next six months, he’ll end up in that CEO role,” Taneja Group analyst Arun Taneja said.

Generally, companies that undergo frequent reorganizations aren’t doing spectacularly. But Ibrix presented this second transition as a planned one, saying Gilbert had been focused on getting operations moving along, while Shetti has already become the public face of the company. Shetti said Gilbert planned on serving one year as CEO, and that term has been completed.

Or as StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz put it, “Ibrix has been shifting from development-focused to that of marketing, business development, partner/reseller/OEM crecruitment and sales deployment execution.” In the past few years, Ibrix has signed channel deals with Dell and HP. Shetti played a key role in both deals, according to the company.

Shetti told me yesterday that Ibrix has been winning deals like the ones with Pixar and Disney because its clustered file system is software-only, and customers can choose their own hardware. Ibrix software can also be embedded within HP or Dell servers at the factory before shipment, so the customer doesn’t have to load software agents on every node.

Ibrix’s software is rumored to be shipping with EMC’s Hulk, but Shetti was mum on that subject.


June 27, 2008  10:50 AM

Brocade still a fan (not FAN) of software

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Although Brocade has a lot on its connectivity plate these days as it transitions to 8-Gbps FC switches, plots its move to FCoE and gets into the HBA game, it still has plans for its fledgling software business.Brocade’s FAN (file area network) initiative has been a bust so far, but at Brocade’s Tech Day Thursday, Max Riggsbee, CTO of the files business unit, laid out a roadmap for a refocused data management portfolio.

Nobody from Brocade used the FAN acronym, but file management remains a key piece of its software strategy, beginning with the recently released Files Management Engine (FME) product. FME is a policy engine that handles migration and virtualization of Windows files. Brocade will add SharePoint file services, disaster recovery for SharePoint and file servers, content-driven file migration and data deduplication in a series of updates through 2010.

Brocade has been fiddling with its files platform and overall software strategy for months now. It dumped its Branch File Manager WAFS product earlier this year, but kept StorageX file migration and Thursday revealed plans for new replication products, including one that deduplicates and compresses files moved across the WAN.

While the new lineup looks impressive on paper, it will take time to play out. And Brocade is walking a tightrope between expanding its product line and treading on its storage system partners’ turf with file virtualization and replication. “We are interested to see how this is received by storage/server vendors,” Wachovia Capital Markets financial analyst Aaron Rakers wrote of the replication product in a note to clients.

Brocade execs say they will take great care to work with partners and avoid competing with them — something they say rival Cisco does with many of its products. Ian Whiting, Brocade’s VP of data center infrastructure, said the new products will be developed jointly with its major OEM partners. “Our business model is all around partnerships with bigger systems companies,” he said. “We believe that’s how customers will consume the technology.”

At least Brocade’s not calling its new files strategy FAN 2.0. That’s a good start.


June 26, 2008  1:53 PM

Litigation update: Sun 1, NetApp 0

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

According to a blog posted today by Sun’s general counsel Mike Dillon, at least one of the patent-infringment counts is off the table in court, after the US Patent Office (PTO) granted a re-examination request filed by Sun.

With regard to one NetApp patent, the ‘001 patent, the PTO has issued a first action rejecting all the claims of this patent. Based on the positive response we received from the PTO, we asked the trial court to stay a portion of the litigation. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to go through the expense and time of litigating a patent in court if the PTO is likely to find it invalid. The court agreed with our request and at least one NetApp patent has thus far been removed from the litigation.

NetApp started all this by filing its ZFS lawsuit against Sun with great fanfare last September, but Sun has been the aggressor ever since.  Sun countersued NetApp’s original suit and accused NetApp of violating Sun’s patents.  It tacked on another lawsuit in March alleging patent infringement related to storage management technology NetApp acquired when it bought Onaro in January.

This is the first of six reexamination requests filed by Sun. Dillon said Sun expects to hear more throughout the year.

NetApp refused comment on the latest developments and a survey of NetApp’s many executive blogs hasn’t turned up any further discussion, though some of Dave Hitz’s testimony is now being made available by Sun online.


June 25, 2008  4:01 PM

Nirvanix readying cloud-based NAS

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Startup Nirvanix today unveiled CloudNAS, which will combine Nirvanix software agents with Linux or Windows servers at the customer site to offer standard NAS storage in the cloud. Until now, Nirvanix and most other cloud storage services such as Amazon’s S3 required API integration between applications and the cloud service.

Nirvanix has had three large companies alpha testing CloudNAS, and is now starting up an open beta program, according to chief marketing officer Jonathan Buckley. “CloudNAS can run on a laptop,” Buckley said. “We’re looking to bring dozens more companies into the mix.”

As far as I know, this is a first. Rackspace’s Mosso offers cloud-based NAS, but only for Web developers. Nirvanix says CloudNAS will use commonly available interfaces, including NFS on Red Hat Linux 5 or SUSE 10 and CIFS on Windows XP. Customers must provide the server hardware and hook it up to Nirvanix’s cloud. The company charges 25 cents per GB per month for its service, but the NAS software will be free. Customers will have the option of a $200 per month support contract.

Just don’t look for CloudNAS to replace your production NAS boxes any time soon. Buckley said he expects the service will be used for mainly for backup, archiving, and other applications that can tolerate latency. “We’re not going to restrict what people put on it, but cloud storage can never be as fast as local enterprise storage,” Buckley said.


June 25, 2008  12:17 PM

The enterprise and open-source storage

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Jesse at SanGod wrote an interesting post the other day entitled “Enterprise storage vs….not.”

I have a cousin. Very well-to-do man, owns a company that does something with storing and providing stock data to other users. I don’t pretent do know the details of the business, but what I do know is that it’s storage and bandwidth intensive.

He’s building his infrastructure on a home-grown storage solution – Tyan motherboards, Areca SATA controllers, infiniband back-end, etc. Probably screaming fast but I don’t have any hard-numbers on what kind of performance he’s getting.

Now I understand people like me not wanting to invest a quarter-mil on “enterprise-class” storage, but why would someone who’se complete and total livelihood depends on their storage infrastructure rely on an open-source, unsupported architecture?

Jesse goes on to point out the resiliency and services benefits of shelling out enterprise bucks. His post sparked a conversation between me and an end user I know well whose shops (in the two jobs I’ve followed him through) are as enterprise as they come. This guy also knows his way around a Symmetrix, and Clariion, and NetApp filers, and when it comes to the secondary disk storage and media servers he’s building for his beefy Symantec NetBackup environment…he’s going with Sun’s Thumper-based open-source storage.

Obviously it’s a little different from cobbling together the raw parts, and Sun offers support on this, so it’s kind of apples and oranges compared with what Jesse’s talking about. But I’ve also heard similar withering talk about Sun’s open storage in particular, and can only imagine Sun’s open-source push is making this topic timely.

This is the second person I’ve talked to from a big, booming enterprise shop who picked Thumper to support NetBackup.  The first, who had the idea more than a year ago, was a backup admin from a major telco I met at Symantec Vision.

Obviously it’s not mission-critical storage in the sense that Symmetrix or XP or USP are, but I’d venture to guess that for a backup admin, his “complete and total livelihood” does depend on this open-source storage. As for the reasons to deploy it instead of a NetApp SATA array or EMC Disk Library or Diligent VTL? Both users cited cost, and the one I talked to more recently had some pointed things to say about what enterprise-class support often really means (see also the Compellent customer I talked with last week, who found that the dollars he spent made him less appreciative of the support he got from EMC).

This ties in with a recent conversation I  had with StorageMojo’s Robin Harris. He compares what’s happening in storage to the relationship between massively parallel systems and the PC in the era of the minicomputer.  When the PC arrived, the workstation market was dominated by makers of minicomputers, the most famous being Digital. Minicomputers were proprietary, expensive and vertically integrated with apps by vendors, much like today’s storage subsystems. Just as the PC introduced a low-cost, industry-standard workstation and the concept of a standardized OS, Harris predicts clustered NAS products built on lower cost, industry-standard components will bring about a similar paradigm shift in enterprise storage.

While there will obviously remain use cases for all kinds of storage (after all, people still run mainframes), I suspect people are starting to think differently about what they’re willing to pay for storage subsystems in the enterprise, regardless of the support or capabilities they’d get for the extra cash. And I do think that on several fronts, whether open-source storage or clustered NAS, it is looking, as Harris put it, like the beginnings of a paradigm shift similar to those that have already happened with PCs and servers.

That’s not to say I think Sun will win out, though. For all Sun’s talk about the brave new world of open-source storage, I haven’t heard much emphasis placed on the secondary-storage use case for it. And that so far is the only type of enterprise deployment for Thumper I’ve come across in the real world.


June 23, 2008  3:48 PM

Yahoo, I hardly knew ye

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

I’ve watched the story unfold about Microsoft and Yahoo, but from a removed perspective because it has little to do with the storage industry and when it comes to most things Web-based and search or email related, I’m a Google user. Still, it’s been a good story to sit back with some popcorn and watch develop.

Recently, though, it’s hit home a little more for me. First, I saw that the New York Times/AP reported that the co-founders of Flickr, a photo sharing service bought by Yahoo in 2005, have left the company. Then I found out that the founder of Del.icio.us is also leaving Yahoo–which was the first time I even realized Del.icio.us was a Yahoo property.

Now I wonder two things–1) How many other staples of my Web 2.o life are part of Yahoo and I didn’t know it? (One helpful resource for this question: TechCrunch has posted a big table to keep track of the Yahoo exodus). 2) What’s going to happen to them?

It’s as close as I’ll ever come to the experience my enterprise storage audience must have regularly when dealing with the effects of mergers and acquisitions. Anxiety frequently accompanies these events, causing people to wonder how the user experience will change with the product, how support might change, how well might the company keep up with features…

It’s not like products can’t survive without their original innovators, and for the moment, Yahoo does still exist as we know it (though there’s speculation that’s not for long). But I have seen in the storage industry how innovation diminishes after the guys who first built the machine in the garage leave the company, innovation diminishes, and the company itself is more likely to move on to the next shiny object.

That’s what I’m afraid will happen now to Flickr and Del.icio.us, and then I’d have to face another nightmare commong among enterprise folks–how to get my 8,000-plus photos and 2,000-plus bookmarks migrated over to another service.


June 23, 2008  10:36 AM

Symantec’s SwapDrive: $500 a year for 2 GB?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

I wasn’t convinced at first when an alert blog reader flagged an error in my previous posts about Symantec and SwapDrive: a comment from  “kataar” pointed out that yearly, SwapDrive actually charges $500 (five hundred) for 2 GB, not $50 (fifty).

That couldn’t possibly be right, I thought. I clicked the site, saw the same price list, read down the column for individual users–ah! 2 GB, $50. I was all ready to post a reply when I went back and checked it one more time, just to be sure. That’s when I noticed “Monthly” over the cost I was looking at. Under “Yearly” was, indeed, $500. For 2 GB of storage per year. For multi-user plans of up to 10 GB, the yearly cost is $2,800.

My bad. And thanks to kataar!

EMC, of course, is having a field day with this. Even comparing a relatively modest price of $49.50 a year (you’ll notice Mark Twomey made the same mistake I did), they are only too happy point out that you can get 2 GB of storage free from Mozy (I’ll let the irony of EMC gloating about another vendor’s pricing pass for now). Meanwhile, you can get up to 5 GB free from Windows SkyDrive, GMail will give you a 2 GB inbox for free, and Carbonite will let you back up unlimited capacity to its cloud for $49.95 per year.

I’ve heard of some of the older data hosting services, like certain specialized deals with Iron Mountain, costing in the neighborhood of SwapDrive’s quoted price, but I haven’t heard of too many in the consumer/SOHO/SMB space charging on that scale.

When I asked Symantec about the pricing, this was the response: “SwapDrive’s current online pricing will keep pace with the market and the value derived. Our service is more robust and redundant than many others offered in the market today.” The spokesperson added that 2 GB of online storage comes included with Norton 360 for an MSRP of $79.99.

I’d really like to learn more about exactly what makes SwapDrive hundreds of dollars more robust and redundant per year.  And what makes it worth $500 standalone but worth some percentage of $80 with Norton 360? That seems like a big swing to me.


June 19, 2008  10:17 AM

Users rebel against e-Discovery liabilities

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Tory Skyers’ post about dedupe and the law jogged my memory about recent conversations I’ve had with users about data compliance and archiving. It’s become a big topic for this industry, and as stewards of data, storage managers are part of the legal e-Discovery process.

But some storage managers are beginning to draw a line when it comes to the extent of their role in that process. A discussion about compliance only goes so far these days before frustration starts to show. Someone from a municipal government shop I met at Symantec Vision last week extolled the virtues of Symantec’s Enterprise Vault for data retention and said his organization has policies for dealing with litigation. But he was clear that his role in the process involves managing bits on disk, period. “I don’t delete anything without the department that owns it giving me explicit instructions,” he said. “It’s not up to me to decide to delete data–it’s up to me to keep the storage and backups running on whatever data departments want to keep.”

This week I spoke to a storage guy from a hospital about email management and archiving, and he told me his shop deletes all email after 60 days. “We wrote policies that say we don’t keep email very long because of the storage cost,” he said, and then added that he’d been told by some vendors pushing archiving that a short enough retention period could “make him look guilty.”

“I’m not guilty of anything,” retorted the user. “I’m an IT guy trying to keep email running.”

And he’s right. As long as a company’s retention policy is clearly defined and followed scrupulously, it can be just about any length of time.

As everybody and their uncle tries to get in on selling e-Discovery products and services, new players emerge and the competition gets fiercer. It sounds to me like this is leading some vendors to use scare tactics to push sales by exaggerating how much liability the storage people have when it comes to data compliance and retention. Analysts increasingly agree that organizations of sufficient size should dedicate a liaison between IT and corporate governance to oversee policy instead of tossing legal liability onto the shoulders of IT.

The problem is, IT people remain responsible for understanding and following policies. They also may be called upon to testify as to what those policies are. While I don’t think users should have to take on the legal burden alone, I hope they’re not being pushed too far in the opposite direction, so caught up in shrugging off false expectations that they aren’t mindful of the real ones.


June 19, 2008  8:46 AM

Compression, dedupe and the law

Tskyers Tory Skyers Profile: Tskyers

Data deduplication is the poster child of 2008. Everyone is rushing to add this capability to just about everything that could possibly ever sit on a network–I thought I saw an ad for a cable tester with de-dupe built in! On the face of it, de-dupe looks like the savior it’s made out to be (except in very isolated instances where it actually inflates the size of stored data, but that’s another subject for another time.).

But take a look a little deeper with my paranoid, curmudgeon-y, semi-lawyer-esque hat on.

De-dupe technology has been likened to “zip” on the fly (no pun intended), which is where I have a couple of problems while wearing my pseudo-legal hat. The first is the act of compression. Way back in the olden days of computing there was a product appropriately named Stacker; its purpose in life was to allow you to fit more on the ridiculously expensive devices we had in our computer called “hard drives”. Microsoft, not content with Stac backing out of a licensing deal, created DoubleSpace (got sued and lost), then DriveSpace (DOS 6.21).

Via the use of a TSR (even the acronym is dusty), these products would intercept all calls destined for your hard drive and compress the data before it got there. Sound familiar? Those disk compression tools had their run, I used them but it presented problems with memory management, at the time Bill Gates decided no one would ever need more than 640KB, amongst other things. This presented a phenomenally large problem when I would load up one of my favorite games at the time from Spectrum Holobyte: Falcon 3.0, Falcon fans know what sorts of contortions one had to endure to get enough lower memory to run Falcon, but I digress.

So I would try to get around having Stacker or DoubleSpace turned on all the time. That didn’t work out well for me, and I spent quite a bit of time compressing and re-compressing my hard drive, enabling and disabling Stacker and DoubleSpace and setting up various non-compressed partitions.

While I don’t see that specific instance as an issue now per se, I do have that (bad) experience, and because of it I have a problem with something sitting inline with my data, compressing it with a proprietary algorithm that I can’t undo if/when the device decides it doesn’t like me anymore. Jumping back 16 years, it wasn’t that hard to format and reinstall DOS, which was a small part of my (then gigantic) 160MB ESDI hard drive, to get around the problems I had. But today when we are talking about multiple Terabytes and such, I want to be sure that I can get to my data unfettered when I need it.

The reason I am paranoid about getting access to my data when I need it: compliance and legal situations. Which brings me to my second point. How will de-dupe stand up in court? Is it even an issue? Is compression so well understood and accepted that it wouldn’t even be problem? Even as paranoid as I am I would have to say … maybe.

Compression has been around for a very long time, we are used to it, we accept it, and we accept some if its shortcomings (ever try to recover a corrupted zip file?) and its limitations, but will that stand up in court? In today’s digital world there are quite a few things that are being decided in our court systems that may not necessarily make sense. Are we sure our legislators understand the differences between a zip (lossless) and JPEG (lossy) compression? How does the act of compressing affect the validity of the data? Does it affect the metadata or envelope information? The answer to these questions, while second nature for us technology folks, may not so second nature for the people deciding court cases. Because compressing and decompressing data is a physical change to the data itself, I can imagine a lawyer trying to invalidate data based on that fact.

I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case. The de-dupe products currently on the market have some astounding technology and performance. They also return quite a bit to the bottom line when used as prescribed, and the solid quantifiable return on investment they represent does for most outweigh any risks.


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