Rainfinity Gets Reinforced

Second version of its NAS data migration box adds failover and CIFS support. Now is it worth $80K?

July 30, 2003

4 Min Read
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Network security startup Rainfinity is digging its talons deeper into the storage market with the launch of the second version of its NAS management appliance (see Rainfinity Upgrades NAS Migration Box).

The San Jose, Calif., company still claims to be the only game in town for providing continuous access to NAS systems even as filers are being backed up or migrated. Added to the mix in the new version of the companys RainStorage appliance is support for the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol, better interoperability with other management products, and the ability to cluster two appliances together for failover and better performance.

The failover capability was an important addition, according to Rainfinity customer Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). Keith Jolley, Qualcomm’s staff engineer manager, says the company tested the first version of the appliance but didn’t want to put it into its Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) environment for fear it would lower performance and reliability.

“We’ve got our NetApp file servers clustered with failover,” he says. “We’re spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars extra for that reliability. Why would we put something else in front of that that would lower the reliability?”

It wasn’t until Jolley saw the second RainStorage appliance a couple of months ago that he convinced Qualcomm's management to write a check for it. “We’re using it for migrating data,” he says, adding that the company typically migrates about 48 Mbytes of data at a time. “If we run out of space on a particular volume, we can move data around without impacting the customers as much.”Of course, the size of the check may be enough to scare more than one potential customer away. Rainfinity's box still costs $80,000 per appliance, regardless of the amount of storage it's being used for. In addition, users wanting clustering support have to purchase additional modules.

"You’ve got to have a burning problem to want to spend that kind of dough," says Enterprise Storage Group Inc. senior analyst Steve Duplessie. He says other larger players in this space -- including NetApp -- would have no problem undercutting Rainfinity’s price if they were to introduce such a capability.

But for now, Rainfinity claims to be the only company to offer nondisruptive access to NAS during migration or backup. The startup, founded in 1998 to develop high-availability devices for firewalls, started shipping the first version of its RainStorage NAS management appliance nearly a year ago (see Rainfinity Fakes Out Filers). Both versions are designed to plug into the network between the clients and the server. While NAS backups and migrations typically require taking the data offline, Rainfinity’s appliance redirects clients and servers to a copy of the data, allowing non-stop access.

The RainStorage appliance is able to move data in-band during active migration, then revert out-of-band for uninterrupted network performance, the company claims. It doesn't require changes to the user’s environment or the deployment of software agents on servers or applications.

"You can just drop it into your environment without changing your architecture,” says The Clipper Group Inc. analyst Michael Fisch.Despite the fact that the appliance can sit unobtrusively out-of-band when it’s not being used, not everyone chooses to leave it plugged in when it’s not needed. "We don’t have it permanently residing in front of our file servers," says Alan Cohen, an IT architect with Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR.A), another Rainfinity customer. "We like to keep our environment as simple as possible."

Agere bought a RainStorage appliance specifically for a large-scale data migration project of 30 Tbytes of data, Cohen says. "We were undergoing a massive server consolidation effort, and users really want zero downtime," he says. "It was fairly seamless. There were some minimal disruptions, but for the most part users were able to continue working throughout the migration."

Cohen says one of the shortcomings of the first version of the RainStorage appliance was that it could only keep track of 3 million files -- a limit that has now been removed. "It had a hard stop," he says. "It would hit the limit, and then stop serving files... They’ve fixed that now."

— Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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