File Virtualization, Data Migration Seeks Spotlight

AutoVirt joins other storage vendors in the effort to improve the management of files for the mid-market

October 11, 2008

4 Min Read
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Startup AutoVirt is the latest vendor to offer a Windows file virtualization system for the mid-market that's designed to improve the management of unstructured data and make it easier to automate the migration of the data to less-expensive storage or for load-balancing purposes.

AutoVirt is officially launching as a company next week at the SNW show in Dallas and formally introducing its software package. It also plans to announce that it has completed raising $4.5 million in A-round financing from investors like Sigma Partners and Kepha Partners.

Founder and chief technology officer Klavs Landberg told Byte and Switch the software will help mid-sized companies improve Windows server and storage utilization by adding an extension to the Windows ecosystem that abstracts file locations. "The killer app is automated and transparent migration of data," Landberg said. "You can set policies to move stuff from one file server to another file server, or from one storage system to another, and the client doesn't need to know."

Prices range from $10,000 to $100,000, based on the number of shares or virtualization objects. Landberg estimates the average street price will be in the $25,000 to $50,000 range. He said a company with about 500 NAS users will pay around $10,000 while $100,000 will buy a license for an unlimited configuration. "Our sweet spot is companies with a single data center and single IT department," he said. He estimated there are more than 500,000 companies that fit that profile.

The market for these types of products is becoming more competitive. F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV) and ONStor Inc. recently introduced file virtualization products, and similar products are available from companies like EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) at the high end and SecureCopy and MigratePro at the low end. The reason for all of the activity is the explosive growth in unstructured file data, especially Windows files in the mid-market.F5's new ARX4000 can handle around 2 billion files and its new Data Manager software looks closely into storage environments, analyzes usage patterns and trends, and then uses "intelligent file virtualization" technology to automate tiering, simplify backup processes, and aid in capacity planning. The software is designed to help storage managers understand what types of data the company has, how much capacity it's consuming, who is using it, and the age of the files. ONStor's new Pantera integrated gateway and storage systems include file virtualization software that's designed to be simple to install and manage, and promises enterprise-level high availability at a relatively low cost. It allows IT departments to consolidate file servers into a single virtual file server.

File virtualization is growing in importance as businesses look for ways to control and manage the explosive growth in files being stored while they move toward the virtual data center. Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) , said Windows data migration is a major challenge for IT managers and it's being made more difficult by the explosive growth in data. "It is astounding to me that so few focus on solving this real world problem," he said in a statement. AutoVirt's software, he said, can help IT departments ease that pain-point.

Landberg said AutoVirt is cheaper than high-end products from companies like F5, Brocade, and EMC, and it provides more features than lower-end copy programs. And the ability to work with any NAS product differentiates it from products like those offered by ONStor and others.

Jeff Boles, senior analyst with Taneja Group , said file virtualization is being used in a different fashion by various vendors, with some focusing on data mobility and migration, some for tiering, and some for aggregating NAS for performance. He noted that AutoVirt is targeting a real problem. "It is hard to migrate data across boxes without staff and resources. The ability to automate it and make it transparent can be a big help," he told Byte and Switch.

The big challenge for companies like AutoVirt comes down the road when file virtualization becomes a common feature in broader, more comprehensive storage products. "This is an example of high-end features moving down to the mid-market, and eventually file virtualization will be integrated into systems," said Boles. "Standalone products will have to answer the question of what else can they do with file virtualization, like enabling information lifecycle management."Landberg acknowledges the challenge but says it's a concern only in the long term. "Everything becomes a feature of the system eventually, and this is a natural feature of the Windows ecosystem," he said. "But Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is entirely [too] preoccupied with server virtualization to reclaim ground they've lost to VMware. It will them five years to reclaim this, and in the meantime we will steal another problem from them."

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