Alacritech Turns to Linux

With iSCSI still on hold, the storage accelerator startup redoubles NAS efforts with Linux push

January 21, 2003

3 Min Read
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With iSCSI still on hold, storage adapter startup Alacritech Inc. has redoubled efforts to tailor its TCP/IP acceleration technology for the NAS market with a push into Linux.

Alacritech on Monday announced partnerships with three small software vendors -- FalconStor Software Inc., Mountain View Data Inc., and OptiFacio Software Services Inc. -- each of which are planning to use Alacritech's network acceleration cards in Linux-based NAS offerings (see Alacritech Signs Linux NAS Partners).

"The NAS vendors are absolutely figuring out they need TOEs [TCP Offload Engines] today," says Joe Gervais, director of product marketing at Alacritech. "We expect that to continue for some years ahead."

Alacritech's new Linux drivers provide acceleration, link aggregation, and failover for NAS environments. The company developed the software around the 2.4 Linux kernel and it supports Red Hat Inc. (Nasdaq: RHAT) Linux versions 7.2 and 7.3. The Alacritech code doesn't replace the TCP/IP stack in Linux; rather, it intercepts certain network calls in order to speed them up. "This is hard work integrating this into the operating system, because these operating systems don't have hooks for TOEs," Gervais says.

But will Alacritech get much moolah from its expanded Linux strategy? The idea is that Alacritech and its software partners will jointly pitch original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on Linux-based NAS packages that provide souped-up performance using the Alacritech network-acceleration cards.This would at first glance appear to be a monumental challenge, seeing as Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is already the dominant supplier of NAS software to the likes of Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) (see Microsoft's SAK Attack).

That said, analysts note that Linux has seen significant traction in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in China. Furthermore, Alacritech has proven it has a viable play as a NAS-acceleration device. Last year, it signed an OEM agreement with IBM, which incorporated Alacritech's TOE into its midrange NAS products. Alacritech also staged a high-performance NAS demonstration with Compaq; Gervais says HP is still "reference-selling" Alacritech's adapters (see IBM Turns NAS Crank and Compaq, Alacritech: We Kick NAS).

But Alacritech has been forced to shift its focus to NAS to ensure its survival, as iSCSI -- the startup's original area of development -- has taken longer to develop than many expected. The technical underpinnings of the iSCSI protocol were approved last September, but the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)'s official OK is still pending. "We're still dotting the I's and crossing the T's," says Gervais.

The delay has prompted some observers to speculate that it will be 2004 before iSCSI-based storage systems start to roll out (see iSCSI Spec Set, Microsoft Won't Ship iSCSI in .NET, and QLogic Keeps on Truckin').

Other companies developing competing TOE technologies include Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT), Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Trebia Networks Inc., and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC). But unlike Alacritech, none of these vendors has announced a customer win yet (see Vendors Chip Into IP Storage, QLogic Does Storage Trois, Intel Wiggles Its TOE, and Adaptec Takes Whack at NAC).Alacritech says it's doing just fine, with or without iSCSI. Gervais says the 40-employee company, which has closed $35.4 million in VC funding to date, actually expects to become cash-flow positive this quarter (see Alacritech Speeds Off With $13M

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