The Value of Buzzwords

ParaScale says its software lets you build 'Private Storage Clouds.' Does using the hot buzzword of the day get you interested?

February 11, 2009

4 Min Read
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Do industry buzzwords make a difference? Your marketing department will tell you they make a great difference and that using the right buzzwords can get you in the door to talk to a potential customer. But when it comes to buying technology, do the right buzzwords make you more inclined to listen? Do the words "private storage clouds" make you want to hear more?

I ask this question after talking to ParaScale, a California startup that will soon come out of stealth mode and offer software to enterprises and service providers to create "private storage clouds" of Tier 2 storage that run on commodity Linux servers and an IP network. A year ago, ParaScale might have described itself as a storage virtualization vendor, since it creates an object file system that aggregates all the disks underneath or inside the servers and presents it all as a single file-serving box.

ParaScale's main selling point is cost. By using commodity servers and Linux, ParaScale says you can build a 6 TB storage cloud on four servers for around $12,000. ParaScale charges around $1,050 per terabyte for its software. The overall cost is half or less than a conventional enterprise storage system, the company says. A free trial version is available for those with smaller storage needs. For large companies, a 1 PB storage cloud will cost under $1 million.

Did ParaScale decide to go with the "cloud" buzzword because clouds are the hottest thing in IT today, with every vendor and his brother offering some type of cloud computing or cloud storage or cloud application service? Nope, says CEO Sajai Krishnan. ParaScale is not your typical storage virtualization vendor.

"Most storage virtualization is like a traffic cop sitting on top of other NAS boxes, and it lets you easily migrate data from one box to another box. They ensure that the app server that was pointing to box one is now pointing to box five," he says, adding that those types of systems can't scale to hundreds of boxes."We are actually building a separate object file system that can scale out into petabytes. We're fundamentally different," he claims. More valid comparisons, he says, would be to the technology that Amazon and Google use, but packaged for enterprises. He also says EMC has a similar architecture with its Atmos offering.

ParaScale's file system also is "largely self managing," he says. "If it requires 10 people to manage it, you've blown the economic advantage. Data is replicated so each box is dispensable, like a disk in a RAID group. We've also completely eliminated the challenge of load balancing, which is mind-numbing work -- moving data around and balancing out appliances and making sure apps are not hung because you've pulled the data from beneath it. You don't worry where your data sits. Apps have one address, and we switch the NFS or HTTP addresses and handle the redirects."

ParaScale has about a dozen companies testing its software, most of which are enterprises that have built private storage clouds. A few are hosting companies and service providers that are building public storage clouds. Krishnan says the software has been tested on up to 100 nodes.

It sounds a lot like storage virtualization to me, but I won't argue with the "Cloud" marketing approach. While some will argue that it can't be a cloud it if doesn't travel over the Internet, I don't agree with that definition. It seems that the cloud buzzword is quickly evolving to mean anything that is offered as a service, whether that comes from your company's IT department or a service provider like Amazon or Google or

"Cloud" is just the latest buzzword for something that has been around for a long time. I remember when phone companies started offering "managed services" many years ago, and cloud services sound a lot like those services (at a much lower price). And "software-as-a-service" doesn't roll off the tongue as smoothly as the word "cloud." Regardless of what you call it, the advent of the Internet, high-bandwidth connections, and new business models are putting a fresh coat of paint on an old idea. But if it gets vendors in to talk to you, then the word "cloud" has accomplished its job. It will be interesting to see who ParaScale ends up competing with when it sits down with customers. Perhaps storage virtualization vendors?0

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