While storage vendors are paying a lot of attention to object storage these days, a new report from Forrester Research points to limitations that make the technology the wrong choice for many organization’s storage requirements.
The report, “Prepare for Object Storage in the Enterprise, defines object storage as “Storage of data that is broken into distinct segments, each containing a unique identifier that allows for retrieval and integrity verification of the data.”
The report isn’t anti-object storage. It points out object storage systems’ value in the areas of massive scalability, greater custom control over data, the ability to reduce management and hardware costs, and its WORM and shared tenancy features. It also recommends object storage for certain workloads. But it also looks at the downsides that need to be considered before adopting an object storage system.
“Poor performance, high data change rates, capacity sprawl, and lack of standards will prevent object storage from becoming ubiquitous, but it has the potential to significantly improve storage economics, ease of use, and control when mapped to the right workloads,” wrote the report’s lead author Andrew Reichman.
The right workloads, according to the report, include archiving, cloud storage, Web 2.0 and imaging applications. In other words, you shouldn’t be using object storage systems for databases.
As for drawbacks, Reichman writes that object storage focuses on data movement, high scalability and automation but not performance. “Performance, measured in inputs/outputs per second (IOPS) is not the strong suit,” he writes. “Put simply, object storage is just not designed as a replacement for SAN storage, deployed where high transactional performance is paramount.”
He adds that object storage’s use of unique identifiers is “not the most efficient design for data that gets edited frequently.” So while it’s good for picture or audio files that usually aren’t modified after creation, it’s not so good for databases and collaborative files.
And while file system vendors follow consistent standards and formats, there is no standard for object APIs. “In the end, the benefits of objects may take a back seat to the consistency and familiarity of files, unless the industry can get together on standardization,” Reichman wrote.
The merger leaves two InfininBand vendors — Mellanox and QLogic, which is primarily a Fibre Channel HBA vendor. Both have their sights on Ethernet as well, as Voltaire did before Mellanox bought it today for $176 million.
Once the merger closes – probably early next year – the new Mellanox will be a more complete InfiniBand vendor. The deal combines Mellanox’s silicon and adapter cards with Voltaire switches and software. Voltaire already bought its switch chips from Mellanox.
Mellanox CEO Eyal Waldman said the two companies will combine product lines in late 2011. He said some of the vendors’ OEM partners and large customers actually requested a merger of the vendors. Mellanox and Voltaire have OEM deals with IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Oracle/Sun and other server vendors, and share enterprise customers including Shell, General Electric and Exxon.
Waldman said the growth of the combined companies will come from adding Voltaire software such as Unified Fabric Manager and Voltaire Storage Accelerator to Mellanox products. “Today they come on top of Voltaire’s systems, and in the future I hope they also come on top of Mellanox’s systems,” he said.
Mellanox and Voltaire were the largest survivors of the handful of vendors who sold InfiniBand devices, hoping that it’s low latency would help it catch on as a major network interconnect. But InfiniBand remains largely a niche player for high performance computing and companies that rely heavily on transactional data for trading. Over the last year, Mellanox had revenue of $149.5 million and Voltaire’s revenue was $67.7 million. QLogic, which got into InfiniBand by acquiring PathScale and SilverStorm in 2006, had $39 million of revenue from InfiniBand last year.
Today’s merger can accelerate Mellanox’s move into converged networks because Voltaire’s software can manage storage and 10-Gigabit Ethernet networks. Both vendors say their 10-GbE devices can support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) as well. QLogic has the lead there, though, with FCoE adapters already on the market.
Waldman said Mellanox would keep Voltaire’s employees, bringing the combined headcount to around 700. Voltaire CEO and chairman Ronnie Kenneth will join the Mellanox board, pending shareholder approval.
A new object storage vendor has thrown its hat in the ring to compete as a cloud storage enabler.
Actually, it’s thrown its Ring in the ring.
Scality’s Ring technology is targeted at service providers looking to take on Amazon S3 in the cloud. Scality is concentrating on storing email first, with designs on other applications and enterprise customers down the road.
“In five years I see us in the enterprise market,” Scality CEO Jerome Lecat said. “Today enterprises are still on the learning curve. They ask a lot of questions, but are not deploying a major pool of cloud storage. But that will come.”
Scality’s DNA is in email storage. It spun out of European email management vendor Bizanga after Cloudmark acquired Bizanga last February. The spin-out was originally called Bizanga Store, but changed its name to Scality in June. Scality is based in France, but has an office in San Francisco.
Lecat said email is also a good fit from a technology perspective for Scality.
“Some applications are being re-written to work with object storage. Email is one of them,” Lecat said. “People have written connectors with Exchange to work in the cloud. We’ll target applications that have been optimized to work with object storage.”
Scality sets up a cluster – or a ring – of nodes on commodity servers, and each node manages its piece of the storage environment. Each node constantly monitors a small number of peers, and the system will automatically rebalance the load if a node is added or taken out. Store and receive requests go through “accessors” that use HTTP, REST, RS2, Zimbra, OpenXchange, or Dovecot to communicate with the application. Scality also developed an I/O daemon called BizIOD to communicate with storage hardware.
When a store or retrieve request comes, the accessor contacts one of the nodes on the Ring. Lecat said by using Scalitiy’s Distributed Hash Table algorithm, the assessor can find the Ring in one hop for a ring of 10 nodes, two hops for 100 nodes, three hops for 1,000 nodes and seven hops for 10,000 nodes. That means within three hops, one node can address 50 PB of storage with less than 20 milliseconds of latency on a Gigabit Ethernet LAN.
After the correct node is contacted, it passes the object to BiziOD, which places it on the storage hardware. The nodes decide what objects should get off-loaded to tier two storage, and handle retention policies. One BizIOD runs per piece of physical storage hardware, but multiple BizIODs can run on one Ring node. If a disk fails, it only impacts the associated BizIOD daemon instead of the entire Ring node.
Adding tier one nodes boosts IOPS for better performance, and adding tier two nodes increases capacity.
Lecat said one Ring node typically has between 3 TB and 7 TB of usable capacity. He said Ring will support unlimited file sizes in its next release, which could come by the end of the year.
“We believe we have faster performance,” Lecat said. “And we can handle policies deployed on storage itself. You can decide how many copies of data you want to keep, and the data can self-delete at the end of the archival period. We manage these things from the storage layer rather than the application layer.”
Lecat said Scality has seven customers, including European service providers Telent, Host Europe, ScaleUp, Dunkel and intergenia. Backup vendor CommVault also provides a connector to European-based providers who use the Scality Ring.
Scality is looking to expand its U.S. footprint, but that won’t be easy because it involves competing with object storage products from EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Dell, NetApp/Bycast, DataDirect Networks, Caringo and Cleversafe.
Overland Storage is giving customers extra disk and tape storage for no charge as part of a holiday season promotion, while Nasdaq is threatening to bring the vendor a lump of coal for Christmas.
Overland initiated two promotions this week, offering customers an additional 4 TB when they purchase a 4 TB SnapServer N2000 NAS/iSCSI system and 1.2PB of free capacity if they buy an NEO 8000e 1.2 PB tape library.
Overland’s attempt to jumpstart sales with these promotions comes as the Nasdaq is threatening to delist the vendor from the stock exchange because it is not in compliance with the exchange’s minimum standards for shareholders’ equity, market value or income. Overland has until Dec. 31 to present a compliance plan to Nasdaq explaining how it plans to meet one of the minimum standards.
After receiving the compliance plan, Nasdaq can grant Overland an extension up to 180 days to accomplish its goals before it is delisted.
Overland faced a similar delisting threat last year and has a history of financial losses, including a $6.5 million loss last quarter on revenue of $17.6 million – a revenue decline of 9% from last year. Overland had $4.3 million in cash at the end of the quarter, but has since sold $4.2 million of stock to investors. Overland’s stock price opened today at $1.30.
The vendor has put together a new management team over the last year under CEO Erik Kelly, including CTO Geoff Barrall and VP of global sales and marketing Jillian Mansolf, and is trying t o rebound with its Snap and NEO platforms. However, two key executives who joined Overland in 2009 — Ravi Pendekanti and Chris Gopal – left this year.
Unlike Data Domain and 3PAR, clustered NAS vendor Isilon received a $2 billion-plus acquisition offer without benefit of a bidding way. EMC made the only offers for Isilon leading to the $2.25 billion deal it announced a week ago, according to documents Isilon filed with the SEC.
Isilon’s price apparently got a boost from its sales last quarter, however, as EMC showed renewed interest after Isilon’s Oct. 21 earnings report.
According to the filing, EMC representatives first approached Isilon last April to discuss an OEM deal and raised the possibility of an acquisition in August. EMC made its first offer of $27.50 per share Sept. 7. Isilon contacted other companies its executives thought might be interested in buying it and entered into confidentiality agreements with two companies but neither submitted an acquisition proposal.
Isilon turned down EMC’s offer anyway, and EMC increased its bid to $30 per share Oct. 2. Two days later, Isilon made a counter offer of $36 per share. EMC responded that it “might be able to support a price of $33.00,” Isilon repeated its request for $36, and CEOs Joe Tucci of EMC and Sujel Patel of Isilon agreed they would announce a deal during Isilon’s earnings call if they reached a deal by then. However, on Oct. 20 EMC informed Isilon it would not pursue a deal “at that time.”
The next day Isilon reported impressive strong third−quarter earnings of $53.8 million in revenues and $4.0 million in net income, and Patel said the vendor was moving ahead with future plans as a standalone company. At EMC’s request, negotiations resumed Nov. 1 and EMC offered $32.50 on Nov. 13. Isilon countered with a request of $35, and EMC made another offer of $33.85 or $2.25 billion. Isilon accepted that offer Nov. 14, and the companies announced the deal the next day.
There had been speculation that at least one other company bid for Isilon because of the price EMC paid, but one Wall Street analyst suspects Hewlett-Packard’s $2.35 billion buyout of 3PAR raised the price for storage acquistions.
“We believe EMC overpaid for the deal, but not in a desperate move,” Wedbush Securities analyst Kaushik Roy wrote in a note on teh deal last week. “We believe HP overpaid for 3PAR thereby setting a high bar for valuation, which EMC has now followed by overpaying for Isilon.”
In any case, Isilon came a long way in the three years since founder Patel took over as CEO following an embarrassing incident when the company had to restate earnings because of improper revenue recognition. Patel continued to invest in technology and boosted sales enough to finally make Isilon profitable at the start of this year.
As a vendor entrenched in niche markets such as gas and oil exploration and rich media, Isilon also built a close following with its customers. Some of those customers are nervous about whether EMC can do as good a job.
“I have mixed feelings,” said John Welter, vice president of technology at Calgary, Alberta-based North West Geomatics Ltd., and an Isilon customer since the early days. “I think it may be good for Isilon because now they can worry about the engineering and innovation side and less about other things that EMC can now look after for them.
“The concern I have is that EMC products – particularly Clariion and the low-end Symmetrix – are extremely conservative equipment. EMC’s products are built solid but there’s nothing revolutionary about them. Isilon is going down a totally different path on storage. Isilon built revolutionary storage. EMC’s products are on an evolutionary path rather than a revolutionary path.”
Welter said he is also concerned with how the deal may affect his relationship with Isilon’s sales team.
“After five or six years of know the sales director in this region, there’s a comfort level,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about what happens with that side, and will I have to start developing a new relationship? Relationship is important when you’re spending a lot of money on storage, and it’s the foundation of your business.”
IBM won the Supercomputing 2010 HPC Storage Challenge this week with a technology designed for signifcantly improvement performance of running analytics and queries for large data sets as well as cloud applications.
Developed at IBM Research Almaden, the General Parallel File System-Shared Nothing Cluster (GPFS-SNC) uses the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) for what IBM calls “high availability through advanced clustering, dynamic file system management and data replication, and can even continue to provide data access when the cluster experiences storage or node malfunctions.”
Prasenjit Sarkar, master inventor for storage analytics and resiliency at IBM Research said the technology uses a distributed architecture where each node is independent and tasks are divided between computers. No node has to wait for another to perform a task. This removes bottlenecks associated with SANs because there is no single point of failure.
“The goal is to store large amounts of data as efficiently as possible,” he said. “This is an architecture for petabytes and even exabytes.”
He said the architecture includes enterprise features such as client-side caching, disk caching, wide area replication, and archiving.
Sarkar said he couldn’t talk about any product plans or roadmap for GPFS-SNC, but he said possible use cases include analytical queries, largescale data warehousing products and cloud computing where storage is accessed in parallel. GPFS is used in IBM’s SONAS scale-out NAS product and its Smart Business Compute Cloud, so the new architecture is likely to show up there. It’s also a candidate for IBM’s recently acquired Netezza data warehousing platform.
Last quarter was a rocky one for Dell’s storage business. Dell lost its protracted bidding war against Hewlett-Packard for 3PAR – upsetting its storage partner EMC – and its revenue growth for the quarter lagged the industry level despite strong sales of EqualLogic iSCSI SANs.
EqualLogic sales grew 66% year over year but Dell’s overall storage revenue only increased 7% to $543 million. Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research analyst Aaron Rakers points out that Dell’s 7% year-over-year growth in storage revenue compares to a percentage increase in the mid-teens across the industry. And while EqualLogic grew year over year to $164 million, Rakers said its sales dropped 4% from the previous quarter and Dell’s overall storage business declined 13% from the previous quarter.
Rakers’ estimates that Dell’s non-EqualLogic storage sales – mostly from EMC’s Clariion – decreased 7.4% year over year and 16.4% from the previous quarter. He pointed out that EMC midrange storage revenue rose 22% year over year and NetApp’s product revenue jumped 49% year over year last quarter.
“Dell’s results reflect a well-known fracturing of the Dell/EMC relationship [following] the Dell vs. HP bidding war for 3PAR,” Rakers wrote in a research note today.
EMC CEO Joe Tucci talked about the Dell relationship during EMC’s earnings call last month and again this week when discussing EMC’s acquisition of clustered NAS vendor Isilon, saying that the partnership has been damaged by Dell’s attempts to broaden its storage portfolio. Tucci also said the vendors are working to improve that relationship. The rift in the partnership began when Dell acquired EqualLogic in 2008 and widened when it try to add EMC competitor 3PAR.
Dell CEO Michael Dell said on his earnings call Thursday that “we have a 10-year relationship with EMC, and that continues to evolve. We’ll continue to work with them.”
But Dell also pointed out that his company makes more profit from selling its own storage, and will invest more money on storage products.
“There’s no question the portfolio of the business is shifting,” he said. “Profitability is increasing. If you look at our storage business, EqualLogic grew 66% and now is on a run rate of over $800 million. We have purchased Exanet to add CIFS and NFS file system capability and Ocarina to add deduplication and compression. We’re focused on growing our storage business.”
Startup BridgeStor came out of stealth today with a series of application-aware appliances that perform data deduplication, compression, encryption and thin provisioning for primary and secondary data.
BridgeStor’s first three devices are Application-Optimized Storage (AOS) for VMware, AOS for Backup Exec 2010, and AOS for Network Storage (iSCSI). The VMware and Network Storage appliances hold 30 TB of capacity and the Backup Exec box holds 20 TB but reduces data through dedupe and compression.
BridgeStor founder and CEO John Matze said he is planning other appliances, including those tuned for Microsoft Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint.
The appliances are 2U Hewlett-Packard severs with 10-Gigabit Ethernet connectivity that run on Microsoft Windows Storage Server. They encrypt data at rest and to transfer into the cloud, and support thin provisioning. The hardware is manufactured by Hewlett-Packard and runs on Microsoft Windows Storage Server.
“I like to say BridgeStor does for storage what Vmware does for servers,” said Matze, who previously founded Siafu Software (acquired by Hifn) and Okapi (acquired by Overland Storage). He also spent time at Veritas, Overland, Hifn and Exar after it acquired Hifn.
He most recently was at Exar. “I spun myself out of Exar to do this project,” he said of self-funded BridgeStor. But he also made a deal with Exar to OEM the chip that provides deduplication and encryption inside his AOS boxes.
Matze said BridgeStor will be focused on small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) because most of the data reduction competition is aiming at the enterprise. He sees a short-term opportunity in backup and “the long-term vision is to be involved with long-term movement of data into cloud.”
Pricing for the apppliances begin at around $20,000.
Violin Memory today rolled out caching software based on its acquisition of Gear6 assets, adding a NAS acceleration product to go with its Flash-based SAN memory arrays.
Violin’s vCache uses Gear6’s NFS caching software on Violin’s Flash Memory Arrays. The idea is to remove I/O bottlenecks from NAS systems by creating large memory pools that serve data faster. vCache expands from 1.5 TB to 15TB of useable cache and Violin claims it delivers over 300,000 NFS operations per second over eight 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. vCache also supports features such as snapshots and deduplication on NAS systems.
When Violin bought Gear6’s assets in June, Violin CEO Don Basile said Gear6 failed to survive because it sold caching software on large expensive appliances. Violin is delivering the software on the 3u arrays it uses for its Flash Memory Arrays. Pricing starts at $40,000 for 1.5 TB of cache.
“Gear6 software was a treasure trove, but its hardware wasn’t as impressive,” Basile said.
“You can buy a small NAS head with low-price software and use cache to accelerate performance,” he said. “We can make the cache as big as you want. You can put it in front of mini arrays and mini servers instead of a filer upgrade.”
The vCache is Violin’s third product, joining the 3200 Flash Memory Array and the 3140 Capacity Flash Memory Array that uses cheaper multi-layer cell (MLC) Flash solid state drive (SSD) technology. Basile said the company has more than 50 customers, and AOL is using 50 TB of Violin Flash devices.
Analysts give Violin credit for expanding its Flash options.
“If Flash is good, then more Flash is better,” said Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy, who sees vCache as a way to avoid buying extra servers to run databases. “If you have Oracle charging you $30,000 per processor for an annual license and you cut the processors in your systems by spreading the database across multiple servers, you cut cost by $30,000 for every server you eliminate.”
SSG-Now senior analyst Jim Bagley said vCache was a logical addition for Violin. “Violin already had a SAN appliance, and Gear6’s technology puts Violin in the filer front-end,” he said. “Gear6 was a nice pick up.”
Following a month of speculation, EMC today said it has agreed to acquire Isilon for $2.25 billion and pegged the scale-out NAS vendor’s portfolio as a key addition to its cloud storage strategy.
In the press release announcing the deal, EMC categorized Isilon and its Atmos object-storage platform as complementary platforms for managing “Big Data” in private and public clouds, and said the combined revenue will reach a $1 billion run rate by the second half of 2012.
EMC definite “Big Data” as “a term used to describe the massive amount of data produced by a new generation of applications in markets such as life sciences (e.g. gene sequencing), media and entertainment (e.g. online streaming), and oil and gas (e.g. seismic interpretation) to name a few.”
EMC clearly sees Isilon’s products as a different category than its Celerra platform, which supports mainstream NAS as well as iSCSI storage.
EMC said both companies’ boards have approved the deal, and it expects the acquistion to close by the end of the year.
EMC will pay $33.85 per share for Isilon stock, which is a 29% premium to Isilon’s Friday closing price of $26.29. That’s a high price, considering Isilon was barely profitable. Isilon reported $4 million in net income on $53.8 million in revenue last quarter, its most profitable ever. The $2.25 billion price tag suggests there may have been another suitor for Isilon, as was the case when Hewlett-Packard acquired 3PAR in September for $2.35 billion after winning a bidding war with Dell. The usual suspects — Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, NetApp and Oracle – have all been mentioned in analyst reports as possible suitors for Isilon.
Perhaps anticipating claims that EMC overpaid for Isilon, EMC spokesman Michael Gallant included a reminder of EMC’s acquisition track record in the e-mailed press release on the Isilon deal.
“EMC has a long and highly successful track record of acquiring, integrating and growing leading IT companies, like Isilon (think Data Domain, VMware, Avamar, etc.),” Gallant wrote. “Since 2003, EMC has also invested more than $13 billion on more than 50 strategic acquisitions.”
Check SearchStorage.com later today for more on this acquisition.