MonoSphere Busts a Mover

Startup adds data movers to out-of-band virtualization software so it doesn't bog down host CPUs

July 12, 2003

4 Min Read
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Startup MonoSphere Inc. has added data mover modules for the second version of its out-of-band virtualization software so that the app doesn't burn up host CPU cycles -- addressing one of the major downsides of its host-oriented architecture.

The MonoSphere Storage Manager software, like other virtualization software on the market, allows customers to pool multiple disparate storage resources to make them appear as if they were in one unified system. Ray Villeneuve, the startup's president and CEO, acknowledges that for larger deployments, being able to offload processing from application servers with data mover modules was a key requirement.

"The data movement [initial customers] requested was significant, so we said, 'Let's give it a boost so no host CPU cycles are burned,' " he says.

The MonoSphere Data Mover Module runs on standard Intel-based Windows servers, as does the primary management application. Villeneuve says different customer environments have different requirements, but he says that as a rule of thumb MonoSphere users might need to add a data mover or two once they reach 50 servers and 5 Tbytes of data.

Also new in version 2.0 of the startup's software suite is support for Solaris servers; previously, it supported only Windows NT and Windows 2000. In addition, MonoSphere now provides a Data Protection Module, which replicates volumes among heterogeneous storage devices. As with the previous version, customers must install Microsoft SQL Server 2000 to run the MonoSphere application. The software is priced at around 1 to 2 cents per MByte of storage managed.MonoSphere identifies its main competitors as DataCore Software Corp. and FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC) -- which, in the brief history of the storage virtualization market, count as Grande Dames. Others offering products in this category include Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd. Meanwhile, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) has added virtualization capabilities to its PowerPath host-based software (see EMC Turns Up the Volume, IBM Plays With Self (Virtually), HP Opens Doors to CASA, and StorageTek Couples With FalconStor).

But unlike the software from DataCore or FalconStor, Villeneuve says, MonoSphere is an out-of-band application. Because the software is not directly in the data path, MonoSphere claims, its application doesn't pose the danger of being a single point of failure and has greater ability to scale.

Moreover, MonoSphere doesn't require an all-or-nothing move that requires a customer to virtualize all its storage. "With us, you can grow gracefuly. There's not a wholesale changeover."

As you might imagine, both FalconStor and DataCore beg to differ with this spin. Jon Greene, FalconStor's director of product management, points out that any virtualization software or hardware that moves data must be in the data path to some extent. "So then the debate is, where's the data mover?" he says. "We believe in putting it in an appliance in the network, and gradually moving into a switch -- not on the host."

Augie Gonzalez, DataCore's director of product marketing, makes a similar point: "If they're putting invasive agents in each of the hosts, is that in-band or out-of-band? It's certainly in the thick of the action. Anytime you go into an IT shop and you're saying, 'Load this invasive software in this Oracle environment,' they back off."MonoSphere, though, believes that it now has the right hybrid to cater to any customer's needs. Villeneuve says that, unlike other host-based virtualization schemes, version 2.0 of the MonoSphere software provides a data mover option that resides in the network.

The company says it shipped the first version of its software in Sept. 2002, though it launched itself a few months later in December (see MonoSphere Whirls Out). Since then, it has signed up around 10 customers, including four the company would name: Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT), Comverse Ltd., Documentum Inc., and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK). Note that each of these are technology companies, which tend to be less risk-averse than typical companies in adopting new technologies.

Based in Redwood City, Calif., MonoSphere has around 50 employees. To date, it has raised $11 million from Benchmark Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Pinnacle Ventures. [Disclosure: Lightspeed Venture Partners is an investor in Light Reading Inc., publisher of Byte and Switch.]

Villeneuve, a former VP of marketing at Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), says with its existing funding MonoSphere has about a year's runway ahead of it. "We have funding in place to execute the current product roadmap and to continue down the path to revenue customers," he says, adding that the company will start the process of seeking additional funding later this fall.

The company's primary focus is in landing customers. However, it has also "had inquiries from large storage OEMs who see the benefit of using MonoSphere as an enabling technology to attack some of the entrenched competitors," Villeneuve says.Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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