Crosswalk Flips to File Side

Relaunch takes startup into clustered file system space

April 12, 2006

4 Min Read
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Crosswalk has taken a new path.

When it first launched in 2004, the vendor combined storage resource management with reporting and monitoring for smaller enterprises. (See Crosswalk.) And while it will continue to sell its original Crosswalk Storage Manager (CSM) software, the company is remaking itself into a clustered file-system vendor with today's launch of its new iGrid product. (See Crosswalk 'Realigns'.)

The system runs on nodes consisting of industry standard hardware, with an eye toward creating a single view of storage spread across multiple volumes and servers. "We put all storage into a single pool seen by all clients simultaneously," says CEO Jack McDonnell.

Crosswalk is aiming iGrid first at high-performance computing (HPC) environments, primarily research labs. The concept isn't new; a host of vendors, including ExaGrid, Exanet, Ibrix, Isilon, Panasas, and PolyServe have similar products aimed at making NAS more manageable. Some have already pierced the HPC market. (See Special Report: NAS Clustering and Virtualization and Cluster Clamor.) Network Appliance is also getting ready to jump in with cluster technology acquired from Spinnaker. (See NetApp Nudges Closer to New OS.)

But iGrid is certainly a far cry from Crosswalk's original offering, which merged software licensed from other vendors into Crosswalk's management console. And it's new for McDonnell, the McData founder who funded Crosswalk after stepping down as chairman of the switch vendor in early 2004. (See Jack McDonnell, Chairman & CEO, Crosswalk.) According to McDonnell, Crosswalk developers have been quietly working on iGrid since the start.The key word here is quietly, with no indication the company would shift into a drastically different product space.

"Talk about changing directions -- this isn't a 180-degree turn, it's a new definition of a U-turn," says analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group.

If Crosswalk is to come out of the turn without skidding it must establish its new product quickly, and make good on promises to do things better than the rest.

"Crosswalk is claiming they can do things that others can't," Schulz says. "It's almost like they've put together a list of best-ofs... But when anybody comes along making big claims, I set my expectation bar a bit higher... They have to back it up. They also have to deliver on their roadmap."

For now, iGrid scales to eight nodes with plans to eventually scale to 256. It handles load balancing and NFS and CIFS support on the front end for file virtualization, and McDonnell says support for block-based Fibre Channel and iSCSI block virtualization will follow. He also says Crosswalk's CSM will eventually be used to help manage iGrid.The product will be generally available in May. Crosswalk has not released pricing information.

Fort Collins, Colo.-based Onternet service provider Front Range Internet has signed on as the first iGrid customer. Front Range CEO Bill Ward says he purchased two iGrid systems to replace three older NetApp filers after evaluating the systems last year. Front Range uses one iGrid onsite to manage customer data and another offsite for backup.

Ward says when he decided to upgrade his filers last year he looked at newer NetApp gear but went with iGrid because of price and flexibility. He won't disclose pricing figures, but says there was a "substantial cost difference" with iGrid. Also, "Network Appliance insists you use their disk while Crosswalk lets you use any disk drives."

The cost savings will help as Front Range moves to keep up with customer demand. Ward says he started with a two-node iGrid onsite and one node offsite, but expects to add nodes rapidly. The ISP offers server co-location services as well as Web hosting, and Ward says one customer is coming online with 10 Tbytes of imaging data, while another customer stores 5 Tbytes of data with Front Range. "This gives us the ability to grow into a larger storage systems," he says.

Going forward, Ward says he would like Crosswalk to add "more robustness for their backup applications."Crosswalk also trotted out the Center of High Performance Computing (CHPC) at the University of Utah and Web conferencing firm ReadyTalk for its re-launch. Those two are evaluating the product.

Although he hasn't yet sold to an HPC customer, McDonnell says that is the logical market to chase first. "They tend to be early adopters looking for innovation and open to products from new players," he says. "They don't only buy from big storage vendors. And they have money to spend, which I find particularly interesting."

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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