Archiving Gets a Refresh

Archiving of static data is turning out to be an area of hot concern

November 1, 2006

4 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World (SNW) -- Archiving of data that doesn't change over time is a red-hot niche, one that's becoming a proving ground for new kinds of storage, according to a number of suppliers here at SNW.

"We're redefining archiving," says Kirk Dunn, CEO of PowerFile, a startup whose optical DVD-based libraries with CIFS and NFS compatibility are used to store medical records, legal documents, and other data that doesn't change over time but needs to be saved for -- well, in some instances -- forever.

Demand has risen for fixed content to be stored in a fashion that won't burden existing disk storage, yet provide durability beyond tape and the ability to retrieve data quickly, he notes -- hence the emphasis on optical technology that isn't considered useful for primary storage but offers a longer-lived and cost-effective alternative to tape.

Dunn credits the CEO of NetApp, who sits on PowerFile's board, with helping the startup see the value of creating "online archives" for static data. "Dan Warmenhoven told me, 'No one is solving this problem,' " Dunn says. He claims PowerFile has sold roughly 16,000 archiving appliances to about 600 customers, though the company's real future will be based on a brand-new product, its A3 appliance, which was released last month. (See PowerFile Pushes DVD Archiving and PowerFile Adds Archiving.)

PowerFile is targeting customers who think EMC's Centera CAS platform may be too costly and complex. An A3 starter kit with 3.4 Tbytes of permanent storage and 1 Tbyte of front-end cache starts at $15,900 -- considerably less than a typical Centera implementation.PowerFile also competes with Plasmon, which announced its own UDO (Ultra Density Optical) Archive Appliance today. (See Plasmon Intros Archive App.) Like Powerfile, Plasmon is targeting applications, such as medical records, that require lots of long-term, accessible storage for data that never changes. Using an appliance frees up primary storage and backups that used to be required to keep this data around. What's more, it's more reliable and durable than tape.

If it sounds like CAS, it's not, says Mike Koclanes, chief strategy officer at Plasmon. "CAS is really a software term ... in which content determines the storage address. We don't do that." (See In Depth: CAS.) Plasmon's new appliance features 2 Tbytes of disk-based cache front-ending 38 Tbytes of optical WORM archive media -- nearly twice what the vendor formerly offered in its hardware. Prices range from $20,000 to $150,000, depending on configuration.

Plasmon's Koclanes says the company has seen sequential growth of 35 percent for the last four quarters in its UDO archiving products, which now account for more than 50 percent of the business. Customers include the likes of Newport Imaging Centers in Newport Beach, Calif., an outpatient medical diagnostic facility.

Like PowerFile, Plasmon uses CIFS and NFS to bring data from multiple hosts into optical storage. And also like PowerFile, Plasmon doesn't offer its own data classification and search tools, but relies on partnerships with Arkivio, Hyland Software, and others, resold with Plasmon's UDO Archive Appliance by strategic integrators and VARs.

PowerFile may move slightly beyond this tack. Dunn says it will continue to rely on software partners for searchability: "Why build another search engine or crawler?" he says. But to construct metadata, PowerFile may release its own patented technologies at a later date.Both Plasmon and PowerFile must contend with criticism about their choice of hardware platform -- criticism that both companies use against one another as well. The use of DVD, for instance, is often met with skepticism by IT pros who recall its unreliability at home. Plasmon must contend with whispers that its WORM technology, originated by Sony, is "proprietary" and a castoff.

But both vendors say the proof is in the pudding, and they insist that once would-be customers try their wares, they're likely to get hooked.

Still, at least one other player in the market is basing its proposition on not requiring any hardware. Caringo, which bills itself as a hardware-independent CAS vendor, uses NFS and CIFS to bring legacy applications into a "share" that is set up to look like a file server to the apps. Based on relational database technology, Caringo's solution lets users access data in browsers or within applications without changing the location of that data.

Large healthcare providers, particularly in Europe, have taken up the CAStor solution, execs say. And while not claiming to compete against EMC ("Why go against these guys when you don't have to?" says CEO Mark Goros), Caringo claims to be bringing CAS to SMEs and SMBs that bigger players aren't attracting. Its value lies in being able to run on any platform, including the Mac mini, which hosted a press-room Caringo demo this morning.

Bottom line? Suppliers are seeing a chance to accommodate the growing roster of companies looking for more cost-effective ways to keep data they don't need all the time, but do need to save. And more is on the way. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," says Dunn. "Archiving is generating a whole list of new companies."Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Arkivio Inc.

  • Caringo

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hyland Software Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Plasmon plc (London: PLM)

  • PowerFile Inc.

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