Storage Soup

October 22, 2007  9:50 AM

SNW Notebook

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Notes from last week’s Fall Storage Networking World. . . .

LSI’s Engenio was the first systems vendor to make the jump from 2 Gbit to 4 Gbit Fibre Channel in late 2005. But LSI won’t have 8-gig systems when HBAs become available from the likes of Brocade, Emulex and QLogic around the middle of next year.

“We believe in 8-gig Fibre, but we’ll be there with the market, not ahead of it,” said Phil Bullinger, general manager of LSI’s Engenio storage group. “I think it will be a slower roll [than 4-gig] in the market.” . . . .

Encryption is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think of storage security. But TD Ameritrade security architect Alan Lustiger warns that encryption doesn’t do much good to protect sensitive information in databases from hackers. Lustiger said hackers gain access to storage by getting in through security holes in the network.

“If the bad guys are going in the same way as the good guys, then encryption hasn’t bought you anything,” he says. Lustiger says that securing the operating system and Web servers is more important than encryption. “If you do nothing else, lock the front door,” he said, referring to Web servers. . . .

Two of the founders of Cisco-backed Nuova Systems made an appearance at SNW, but left without shedding any light on the company’s product line. Nuova’s marketing vice president Soni Jiandani and senior fellow Silvano Gai joined QLogic and Network Appliance at a Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) news conference but limited their discussion to the technology itself.

“We’re not launching products or the company,” Jiandani said when asked what Nuova’s role in FCoE would be. “We just wanted to speak about Fibre Channel over Ethernet and 10-gig.” . . . .

H3C, a subsidiary of 3Com based in China and the leading IP SAN vendor there, came to SNW to launch new products but does not intend to sell them in the U.S. “We are here to look for U.S. partners but not to sell systems here,” said H3C’s president Arthur Lee.

H3C’s upcoming products include a high-end IX3000 series that supports SAS and SATA, and will eventually include a Fibre Channel interface — although no Fibre Channel-only systems are on H3C’s roadmap. H3C’s U.S. partners include FalconStor and Intel. . . .

Venture capitalists need to find the next hot technology long before it becomes the next hot technology. So what are the VCs looking at now? Storage services, says Charles Curran, general partner at Valhalla Partners.

“We like storage services,” he said. “There’s a rapid growth of Internet storage, video, and those types of applications and people are looking for services to manage them.”

Services are hardly new, though. Curran said he’s still looking for the type of emerging technology Valhalla identified when it funded companies like LeftHand Networks to take advantage of Ethernet storage and Sepaton for its early position in disk backup.

“I’m trying to find the next tornado,” Curran said. “We don’t have one now.” . . . .

Comings and going: Former BlueArc CEO Gianluca Rattazzi has a new software startup called MaxiScale. The company is in stealth mode, but raised $12 million in funding last March. Other MaxiScale execs included former Attune Networks CTO Francesco Lacapra and former Attune Systems vp of marketing Dan Liddle. . . . Storage veteran Larry Cormier, recently with defunct data classification startup Scentric, now heads marketing at iSCSI vendor LeftHand Networks.

October 17, 2007  2:01 PM

The Cisco kids?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

The AP has reported that execs in Cisco’s Brazilian business unit have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling and tax fraud. Yikes.

Add this to the “storage / networking police blotter” over the last year, which has included such bizarre cases as the HP pretexting flak and a more recent instance of a NetApp manager accused of embezzling travel funds.

Anybody care to start a betting pool on which people from which big company will show up in the news next? It could be like a game of Clue…“EMC, middle managers, jaywalking, in New York City!” “IBM, Board of Directors, unpaid parking violations, in Research Triangle!”

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

October 15, 2007  8:42 AM

Hitachi GST aims to pack 4 TB on disk drives by 2011

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Hitachi GST says it anticipates that by the year 2011, it will be able to pack 4 TB of data onto a SATA drive and 1 TB of data onto a 1.8″ notebook hard drive.

The drive maker is basing these predictions on a new drive-head design, which it is unveiling at the 8th annual Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Conference this week in Japan.

The new design incorporates perpendicular recording, which places bits on end rather than side-by-side on disk to increase density, as well as the principle of Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR), a breakthrough in magnetic materials science that earned its discoverers the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics. Simply put, GMR refers to the fact that very thin films of metal can be highly sensitive to magnetic changes if the films are in the presence of a magnetic field. GMR was discovered in 1988 near-simultaneously by Albert Fert of the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, and Peter Grünberg of the Forschungszentrum in Jülich, Germany; the two men share the Nobel this year.

GMR has led to advances in drive density since 1997, according to John Best, chief technologist of Hitachi GST. But, what the company is announcing today is a new twist on the magnetic field part of the equation — a concept called Current Perpendicular to the Plane, or CPP-GMR. The new Hitachi drive head design runs the electric current vertically through the drive head, allowing the current to pinpoint ever smaller areas of the disk surface. This will allow the head to read drive tracks as close together as 30 nanometers. Today’s densest drive tracks are 70 nm or greater; 30 nm would yield the 4 TB size Hitachi is projecting for a 3.5″ drive.

From here, however, the challenge will be consistently mass-producing both drive heads and drive platters at that density — and drive substrate materials will still need several more years to catch up.  “It’s one thing to demonstrate a few heads and another to efficiently mass-produce them with reliable yields,” said John Rydning, research manager for hard disk drives at IDC. “What you have to remember is that Moore’s law refers to certain characteristics of the semiconductor manufacturing process, and hard drives are already at the very forefront of semiconductor manufacturing technology.” It will take several years for drives to catch up to the capabilities of these new heads, he said.

And maybe it’s time to ask, how big can drives get? 1 TB SATA drives are already causing systems makers to rethink RAID; what will 4 TB drives mean in terms of reliability and data protection? It’s an unknown right now, Rydning said, but he predicted the advance will more commonly be used to make big drives physically smaller, rather than denser. “Think about it,” he said. “We don’t have 5 and a quarter-inch drive sizes anymore.

October 12, 2007  8:33 AM

Xyratex subtracts power conversions from new array

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Xyratex might not be a company known to many end users — their major business is selling storage subsystem hardware to OEMs. But, if you’re concerned about the power draw on your storage system, you might want to start paying attention to who’s under the covers. Xyratex has announced a new version of its array called the OneStor Extensible Storage Platform (ESP) 4U24, which is the first in a new line of arrays offering new features that the company claims will make it easier for OEMs to integrate application-specific software onto its hardware platform.

More interesting to non-OEMs, though, are some of the things Xyratex is doing with this new box to decrease its power draw and make it more efficient. First, it’s now offering a low-power mode for inactive disks that can be controlled through software, but fail over to hardware controls on the device’s midplane in the event of a failure. Xyratex is also offering OEMs an API for shutting disks off and powering them back up again — setting the stage for MAID arrays.

But for this reporter, more notable is the fact Xyratex is one of the first enterprise array vendors I’ve heard of to announce the elimination of power conversions within the silicon on the box itself. This is something Google and experts on the server side have highlighted as a major cause of energy inefficiency with computer systems. (In fact, we did a whole story on this issue back in June.)

In many data centers, converting between alternating current (AC, or wall power) and direct current (DC, or battery power) takes multiple steps. This results in some loss of power efficiency.

Within computers themselves, power is converted down to low voltages for powering individual computer parts, and within today’s enterprise systems, typically the conversions are between +/- 5 volt and 12 volt switches. Different factions have different opinions on which of those voltages should be kept, but Xyratex has eliminated the +/- 5 volt conversion from its new box.

Look for similar changes from other storage vendors to come soon; on the server side, they’re already well ahead of the storage market. There, the environmental energy technologies division at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) has been working with server vendors, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toward finding a standard single voltage for server hardware.

October 11, 2007  9:02 AM

Carly Fiorina: FOX’s newest business anchor

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Do not attempt to adjust your sets — former HP CEO Carly Fiorina will be coming to a FOX television news broadcast near you.

FOX is launching a new business channel, FOX Business Network, and announced this week that Fiorina will join the network as an expert contributor.

As for an analysis of this situation, I think put it best:

No question that Fiorina had on-air experience during her reign as HP’s CEO from 1999 to 2005, which made her one of the highest ranking women in business. Her tenure was marked by intense media interest, not to mention controversy and criticism over her flamboyance and leadership.

October 11, 2007  8:19 AM

Amazon S3 offers new SLA

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Responding to pressure from newcomers to the storage SaaS market, Amazon announced yesterday that its S3 online storage service will offer a monthly uptime SLA of 99.9%, effective from Oct. 1.

This matches an offer first made by new online storage service player Nirvanix, which came out of stealth last month with its own 99.9% SLA, which at the time Amazon did not match.

It will also come as good news for users of the service, who in the past have complained of unplanned outages and performance issues with the service.

October 10, 2007  3:35 PM

Will dedupe get its day in court?

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Data deduplication has been much discussed in the data center for the past year or so, and now is gaining attention in legal circles.

Quantum announced Tuesday that it filed suit against Riverbed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, claiming the wide area file services vendor is infringing on a deduplication patent originally granted to Rocksoft in 1999. Quantum gained the patent when it bought ADIC in May of 2006, two months after ADIC acquired Rocksoft.

Quantum is seeking to stop Riverbed from using the technology in its WAFS devices, while seeking damages, attorney fees and other costs.

Quantum general counsel Shawn Hall said in a prepared statement that the suit was filed eight months after the backup vendor first approached Riverbed. “Unfortunately, this effort has been unsuccessful, and we felt we had no choice but to initiate action to protect our intellectual property in data deduplication,” he said.

Riverbed answered that it has done nothing wrong — at least not intentionally. “Riverbed’s policy is to respect the intellectual property rights of all third parties,” the company said in a statement. “Riverbed has no factual or other basis to believe that it infringes the patents of any third party, including Quantum. Riverbed intends to timely respond to Quantum’s claims and will defend itself in this action to ensure that its rights are fully protected.”

Quantum claims it has confidential licensing agreements with other vendors regarding its deduplication patent. It also has a cross-licensing agreement with rival Data Domain that became public knowledge earlier this year. As part of that agreement, Data Domain issued Quantum stock shares that were worth $5,850,000 when Data Domain went public in June. Quantum sold $2.1 million of shares during the second quarter.

Quantum considers data deduplication a key technology in helping it expand its backup products from tape to disk. Quantum began selling disk backup devices with deduplication last January.

“The patent gives us a strong leadership position that we want to protect,” Quantum spokesman Brad Cohen said.

This is just a hunch, but the feeling here is you can expect the Riverbed suit to end with the WAFS vendor and Quantum reaching a not-so-confidential agreement to settle the issue.

October 10, 2007  2:59 PM

Rivals eyeing EMC for VMware?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

The “Somebody’s gonna buy EMC!” talk is rearing its head again recently in the marketplace. This is a perennial conversation. In fact, we already covered it…two years ago.

This time, though, there’s a new wrinkle, highlighted in this very interesting post by a financial blogger at Barron’s. (Never thought I’d use the words “interesting” and “financial” in the same sentence!)


The picture painted by the Barron’s blogger is one in which the cart is running away with the horse–EMC’s “subsidiary” is now valued at almost the same level as EMC itself, and its stock is trading at 5 times the price of EMC’s (which only recently broke the $20 threshold). The suggestion is also that prospective buyers might be looking at the subsidiary, not the core company–VMware is literally changing the world right now, and EMC continues to be distracted by integrating its many, many acquisitions.

Then again, what kind of valuation can be put on VMware right now? What do you suppose the asking price would be? Would any company, even Cisco, be able to afford it?

Ah yes, there’s that “C” word again. Cisco has long been pointed out as the most likely potential suitor for EMC. They’re big enough, they’ve got products that go hand-in-glove with EMC’s, and right now, they’re pushing their data center management software, VFrame, as well as its integration with VMware, pretty hard. Meanwhile, throughout the data center, server virtualization is the name of the game, and right now VMware’s the only game in town.

Which means its highly unlikely EMC would part with it, or sell themselves out and lose control of an all-time cash cow just as it begins to bear serious fruit. But you never say never–and as Barron’s pointed out, buying the whole farm might be worth it just for that one miraculous bovine.

October 10, 2007  2:32 PM

The budget category conundrum

Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

Successful patterns of behavior are repeated. That adage is as good a reason as any as to why storage managers are reluctant to change their storage buying or management practices. Yet fundamental changes in how underlying data storage technologies work are forcing a subsequent change in storage management and procurement. Now is the time of year to lay the foundation for those changes.

The fourth quarter is typically when storage managers plan their budgets for 2008, but classifying new storage products is anything but cut and dry. The days of using budget categories like “backup software,” “disk” and “tape” are coming to an end as continuous data protection (CDP), data protection and recovery management (DPRM) software, disk cartridges, iSCSI storage systems and storage virtualization emerge. These technologies don’t quite fit into the tidy budget categories that storage managers have used over the years.

Storage managers are re-thinking and re-wording budget categories so category descriptions can be more inclusive of new storage technologies. For instance, “backup software” and “tape” might become “data protection software” and “data protection hardware,” respectively, while the “disk” category may be described as a “storage network.” Simple wording changes like these can help storage managers prepare their management teams for the fact that new storage technologies are coming.

Bringing new storage technologies into a company is never an easy task and the larger the company, the more difficult it becomes. However, sticking to storage technologies that have worked in the past is increasingly the wrong way to manage storage. Using new storage technologies, companies stand to get more mileage out of their storage while becoming more efficient in how they manage it. Examining and changing the wording in your budget is a simple way to start the process of change without putting either yourself, or your company, at undue risk.

October 10, 2007  2:04 PM

CDP’s evolution takes shape

Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

The evolution of the use of continuous data protection in companies is taking shape. BakBone Software’s inclusion of CDP as a new feature in its NetVault:Backup 8.0 release puts it in the growing number of products such as Asigra’s TeleVaulting and InMage Systems DR-Scout that use CDP to protect Windows and Linux servers.

The rationale for including CDP in backup is simple. Easy backup and recovery of standalone Linux and Windows servers remains a significant challenge for administrators. Companies still have too many of this class of servers with too few administrators, who are struggling to provide a cost-effective means to backup and recover this class of servers.

Using CDP as part of the backup client addresses this issue on several fronts. It replicates data to disk locally and remotely; it provides for fast point-in-time recoveries at any past point-in-time (typically 3 – 30 days); and by creating and keeping a complete copy of the data on disk on another host, administrators can manipulate this copy of data in multiple ways.

Continued »

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