PolyServe Hits the Comeback Trail

This startup's file system software might lock on at last

September 28, 2001

3 Min Read
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"New" can be a relative term in the startup world. PolyServe, which is set to unveil its SAN file system software at the Storage Decisions conference in Chicago this week, has been knocking around since 1998.

Its not surprising then that a good chunk of its "new" file system technology is in fact the third generation of its software.

Taking it from the top (perhaps that should be the bottom), PolyServe introduced its failover software for servers, dubbed Understudy, in early 2000. This product evolved into LocalCluster as it added support for more servers and gained replication features. After a subsequent rebranding effort, it emerged as the PolyServe Application Manager, which in turn has become a feature of the "new" software, PolyServe Matrix Server, the product being launched at the conference in Chicago. Got it?

We think we have. Essentially, what's new in PolyServe’s host-based software is the capability to allow "dozens" of servers to have concurrent read and write access to shared data on a SAN.

This is an improvement over traditional network file systems like those from Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), which only do file-level data sharing. Although these devices can read data on a SAN, they don’t allow concurrent write access to it. This requires complex distributed lock management software, which prevents multiple servers from updating the same data at the same time, causing corruption.Lock management is important for OLTP (online transaction processing) applications, in which multiple readers and writers access the same data. Plus, the PolyServe Matrix Server provides the clustering, failover, and replication features available in the PolyServe Application Manager.

The lock management software is what PolyServe prides itself on. "This is our secret sauce," says Steve Proffitt, senior director of product marketing.

When it comes to this kind of thing, the PolyServe lock management software was written by some dab hands. Several key members of the team --including Ralph N. Hedberg, VP of product development, and Carter George, VP of corporate development -- worked for Sequent Computer on the NUMA-Q kernel, a mission-critical distributed computing operating system. Sequent was eventually acquired by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) for $810 million.

PolyServe’s plans are at least as grand. "We want to be the all-purpose operating system for storage," says Proffitt. That would be a fine idea, if the 800 pound gorilla, Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) wasn’t sneaking up behind it.

Proffitt counters this with the usual startup mantra about being nimbler and more adaptable than the incumbent competitor, with no legacy code to lug about. But concomitant to having no baggage, of course, is having no customers either.PolyServe is aiming to fix that. It is in beta testing with a global financial institution, a major U.S. telco, and a large retailer, the company says. The product is expected to ship in volume in the first quarter of 2002.

In the meantime, PolyServe is a year into a $25 million round of funding from Greylock, New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and The Roda Group. It is "in discussions" for a third round, and with 75 employees on the books, this is likely to be a priority.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch http://www.byteandswitch.com

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