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Aug 30 2018   5:26PM GMT

Startup Infinite io ropes new investors for its cloud NAS controller

Garry Kranz Garry Kranz Profile: Garry Kranz

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Sometimes a storage startup makes a bang, fades into the background, and you forget about it – until the company snares a passel of new investors. That was the case with NAS controller specialist Infinite io, a newcomer that wants to shake up traditional file storage.

The Austin, Texas-based network virtualization vendor this week said it has $10.3 million to speed its advance into NAS and cloud, with a special focus on NetApp shops.  The money was provided by a combination of institutional and private investors. Former Motorola CEO and Cleversafe founder Chris Galvin led the round with his son, David Galvin, who runs San Francisco-based Three Fish Capital.

Chris Galvin launched Cleversafe in 2005 and helped pioneer the concept of object storage. IBM acquired Cleversafe for $1.3 billion in 2015 and has adapted the technology as its IBM Cloud Object platform.

Infinite io also obtained institutional funding from Chicago Ventures, Dougherty & Company, Equus Holding and PV Ventures, a venture firm run by X-IO Technologies CEO Bill Miller.  Chicago Ventures is a repeat investor, having furnished Infinite io with $3.4 million in seed funding in 2015.

Another storage industry notable to invest is Dean Drako, the founder and former CEO of data protection specialist Barracuda Networks. Drako now runs cloud-based security vendor Eagle Eye Networks.

Infinite io CEO Mark Cree said the funding will be used to hire engineers, sales reps and operations staff. Six newcomers have been brought aboard this week, Cree said.

“A lot of it will be just getting more feet on the street in sales. The other part of it is that our device is so foreign to anything else out there in storage. We aren’t a file system or additional mount point. What we really are is a big flash meta-database,” Cree said.

Using a hardware gateway to offload data to the cloud is not a new idea. Avere Systems (now part of Microsoft), Nasuni Corp. and Panzura have offered NAS file gateways in the past. There is still demand for such hardware products, but enterprise preferences are changing. More and more data centers prefer to run cloud-based NAS software on industry-standard gear.

Scale-out NAS vendor Qumulo has added a cloud-spanning file fabric in its software-defined storage appliance, and there are a number of object storage vendors that position their products as a low-cost, low-latency but high-capacity archives.

Infinite io eschews a native file system, while still tackling the growing demand for native scale-out storage.  The 2U Infinite io Network Storage Controller (NSC) white box serves metadata from DRAM and includes 5 TB of flash to handle software code and large file systems.  The product embeds standard x86 code and off-the-shelf packaging.

Customers have the option to purchase it solely as a NAS accelerator or bundle it with Infinite io’s cloud tiering software for back-end object storage. Cree said his company plans to introduce a software-only version on prequalified commodity servers in 2019.

Cree said the product is used by organizations in genomics, government, media and entertainment.

The NSC appliance sits as a bump on the wire to encrypt each payload before it is sent to the storage. The in-band device fronts a NAS filer, but application clients see NSC as local storage. The transparent control plane serves as a proxy to connect servers and storage. Three nodes are required for failover, and a single cluster can scale to 12 nodes.  The cluster connects to any back-end object storage for cloud tiering.

Infinite io NAS software inspects all data traffic in the NAS head. That helps it build a metadata library of commonly accessed files. The cloud software automatically shuttles inactive data to the cloud, based on user-defined policies.

Cree has been down this road before. He launched NAS cloud-based caching startup StorSpeed in 2007, and it amassed $13 million before investors turned off the spigot. The company was renamed CacheIQ.  NetApp subsequently paid $90 million for the CacheIQ technology in 2012, tucking it on its unified FAS arrays.

Cree started Infinite io with Jay Rolette and Dave Sommers. Rolette is vice president of engineering and formerly was the chief technologist at Hewlett Packard Tipping Point, which was sold  to TrendMicro when HP split into two companies in 2015. Sommer is Infinite io’s vice president of operations and a former vice president of engineering at Adaptec, now part of Microsemi.

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