Cereva Details Storage Switch

Next-generation SAN startup draws $110 million in funding and breaks silence with product news

January 9, 2001

4 Min Read
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For months, Cereva Networks Inc. played its cards close to the vest, refusing to divulge much about its next-generation storage area networking (SAN) platform. The minimal info on record about the company came chiefly from its VCs (see Cereva ). Even the founder's identity was hidden.

Today, Cereva opened its doors in a company announcement that's as candid as the buildup's been secretive. We now know the company's founder is Raju C. Bopardikar, a TCP/IP and HIPPI expert with former ties to Bell Labs, IBM, and several semiconductor companies. And funding includes $110 million in financing and $20 million in credit from a range of sources, including those listed earlier in Light Reading, plus Sumitomo Corp..

In other ways, however, the suspense has deepened.

For one thing, Cereva's offering a new kind of box that needs to be proven. It also remains to be seen whether the product will offer the kind of connectivity that would give it a wide appeal among different types of carriers.

Dubbed the Internet Storage system, the product combines the following key elements:

  • Multiple server, disk management, and switching modules, each independently based on Power PC processors operating in parallel with other modules to avoid bottlenecks

  • A patent-pending, proprietary, real-time operating system with security functions and algorithms that dynamically manage stored data and files

  • Back-end disk storage with drives from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: SEG) driven by proprietary FPGA (field programmable gate array) components and software

  • A nonblocking, 128-Gbit/s switch to interconnect all system elements

Cereva says the prototype, which targets Web hosting companies, is in trials with GiantLoop Network Inc., Mirror Image Internet, Navisite Inc., and StorageNetworks Inc. (Nasdaq: STOR) -- none of which could be reached for comment at press time. General shipment is slated for spring.

"The scale of Cereva's product is vastly different from anything out there," says Arun Taneja, senior editor at Enterprise Storage Group, a consultancy. "To get the same functionality in products today, you'd have to glom together multiple switches, routers, and high-end storage systems."

Cereva's initial Internet Storage system will offer only Fibre Channel connectivity, restricting its use to carriers that already support Fibre Channel SANs. Spokepeople say Sonet and gigabit Ethernet links will ship sometime during the second half of 2001. But questions remain about whether Cereva will support DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) as a future option at all.

This could make Cereva's box a second choice to some emerging competition, at least for certain types of carriers. Rival storage startup TrueSAN Networks Inc. (see Startups Ready Big SAN Switches), for example, claims its Paladin server now contains ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), Ethernet, and 16-channel DWDM connectivity as well as Fibre Channel. That could make TrueSAN's product more attractive to metropolitan CLECs and BLECs who are more interested in offering customers immediate Internet Web access, rather than Web hosting or massive data storage.

For its part, Cereva says it will offer more reliability, scalability, and carrier-specific features, including full fault tolerance of all elements, than any of its competitors -- TrueSAN included. But customers will pay a premium: Specially designed parts will pump up the price of Cereva's box. "Carriers will spend a quarter to a half million to buy into our design," says a Cereva spokesperson. In contrast, TrueSAN has said its platform will be based on ASICs and OEM'd parts, making it cheaper. Of course, TrueSAN's productis only starting to ship and Cereva's isn't out yet, so comparisons are educated guesses at best.Connectivity and cost also aren't the only factors carriers seek. Manageability is high on the list. According to William Hurley, program manager at The Yankee Group consultancy, that's where Cereva will show its colors. The box, he says, dynamically allocates a portion of available storage to a specific application (such as a one-time presentation on the Web), then re-allocates the same capacity to other apps as needed. And that sets its box apart from products such as the Symmetrix server series from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC).

"This product really is very different from anything we've seen," Hurley says.

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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