ExaGrid Picks Its Nodes

StorageNetworks refugees launch disk backup venture based on grid computing concepts

November 18, 2003

3 Min Read
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ExaGrid Systems, a startup founded by two former executives of defunct storage service provider StorageNetworks, has come out of stealth with a disk-based backup system it says goes above and beyond anything on the market today (see ExaGrid Debuts Disk Backup and StorageNetworks Succumbs).

Jim Pownell, president and founder of ExaGrid, says the startup's software was developed out of the experience he and Dave Therrien had when they were involved in managing StorageNetworks' 50 data centers.

"We used to build very large networks at StorageNetworks -- with 50 Tbytes or 100 Tbytes -- but the question was, how do I protect it?" he says. "In the past, you couldn't unless you threw a ton of hardware and a ton of people at it."

The "grid" in the startup's name comes from its concept of using commodity hardware to let multiple storage servers -- connected in multiple locations -- back up and protect each other. ExaGrid's boxes provide access via standard network file protocols such as NFS, CIFS, and FTP. The building blocks of the system are 1U-high servers ("disk nodes") with an Intel processor, 1 Tbyte of storage, and 1 Gbyte of memory; as many as about 250 of these can be stacked together behind a single ExaGrid filer.

"We're adapting the concepts of grid computing to storage," says Gareth Taube, ExaGrid's VP of marketing, who was previously in charge of Emulex Corp.'s (NYSE: ELX) IP storage networking unit.ExaGrid says its software was developed based on the principles of the Globus Alliance, an open-source grid computing project (see Grid Networking and Watch for the Grid).

Founded in early 2002, ExaGrid raised $8.5 million Series A funding from Highland Capital Partners and Sigma Partners in May 2002. The startup, based in Westborough, Mass., has around 30 employees.

Others in the disk-based backup space include startups Avamar Inc., Data Domain, and Permabit Inc. Big guns targeting this area include EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), which both sell lower-cost disk systems designed to supplement tape backup.

But ExaGrid says it's a horse of a different color. Its system provides a full suite of data protection utilities -- including local and remote backup, disaster recovery, and archiving -- rather than just providing a repository of disks, Taube says. And unlike some, such as EMC's Centera, the ExaGrid system uses standard file protocols.

Taube asserts that ExaGrid's system will be 30 percent the price of what it would cost to put together all the elements necessary using traditional hardware and software. However, it has not announced pricing yet. The company expects to ship its system in the first quarter of 2004.ExaGrid says seven customers are beta testing the product, including CuraGen Corp., a genomics-based pharmaceutical company; Massachusetts General Hospital; and The First Years, a parenting Website.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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