Startups Thrive on Storage Leftovers

RevStor & Seanodes are among the latest to use available server space for backup

November 28, 2007

4 Min Read
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Two emerging startups claim to create NAS out of unused space on application servers and workstations in corporate networks. Using techniques popularized by so-called grid computing firms and by companies like LeftHand Networks, Parascale, and Cleversafe, RevStor and Seanodes say they have a winning proposition for shops of all sizes.

RevStor, for instance, virtualizes unused disk storage in servers and workstations to back up files. At $2,500 per Tbyte stored, that's less than buying a low-end NAS.

What's more, the startup claims its approach is extra secure, because file data is chopped up and given hash codes prior to being assigned to the leftover storage.

The RevStor software, called SANware, comprises agent software for each server or workstation on a network. According to the vendor, agents consume less than 2 percent to 3 percent of all network resources, including storage and bandwidth.SANware monitors CPU space, hard drives, and bandwidth utilization every three minutes. When it detects free space, it moves files in. When space on a server or PC starts to run low, it moves data off a loaded system onto another one.

Before data is stored, SANware splits it into pieces. Each piece can be used to reassemble the file as needed. When a file is restored, SANware uses CRC and other checks of integrity to make sure the pieces reassemble into a file that looks exactly like the one that was initially stored. "Our magic is ensuring that files are extremely secure not just from theft or loss but from corruption," says Russ Felker, founder and CEO of RevStor.

Not everyone will go for the RevStor solution. Enterprises that prefer data in silos or on dedicated NAS or SAN resources probably won't want a product that co-exists as an agent on various LAN-resident machines. Still, Felker thinks his method will be seen as a substantial cost savings for firms willing to consider it.

RevStor has about 10 paying customers, Felker claims -- though none were available to speak with us at press time. His 18-person firm, based in Schaumburg, Ill., is privately funded with just about $600,000 and is looking to raise more. He's confident of future success, mainly because he sees RevStor as solving a key problem.

"I was running an outsourced IT firm," says "I'm familiar with the problems of storing data and keeping it secure. When you need more storage, that's more expensive, all the components are very costly. And you get tired of trying to fight to get all the storage products working together."RevStor's approach isn't unique. Seanodes, which just garnered $6.5 million in fresh funding, also uses agents to virtualize storage on LAN-linked servers. The vendor, headquartered in France with new offices in the U.S., also claims about 10 paying customers.

Both vendors tout questionable differentiators. According to Frank Gana, director of business development at Seanodes, prices starting at $200 per server are cheaper than those for RevStor -- though what that $200 buys isn't clear. For its part, RevStor claims tighter security than Seanodes, though the specifics aren't clearcut, either.

Neither RevStor nor Seanodes is deploying unique technology. The concept of using standard, nonproprietary hardware for storage has been popularized by iSCSI SAN vendor LeftHand Networks. Another iSCSI startup, StorMagic, takes a similar approach. In addition, a passel of other startups claim a distributed storage or grid approach, including Cleversafe and Parascale, as well as Google and Amazon.

At least one analyst thinks the underlying technology isn't important when it comes to the storage leftovers approach. "Seanodes is interesting, however they need to get people to see the business benefit and move potential adopters beyond the 'Geez, that's interesting and cool' phase to the 'Hummm, wonder where I could actually deploy and adopt the technology' phase," says analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group.

According to Schulz, the kind of solution proposed by Seanodes and others would be a good fit for use with Flash-based SSD cards for servers. Meanwhile, he thinks it's interesting to keep an eye on the shared-storage crowd, including vendors that specialize in virtual machines for storage, like FalconStor.Another analyst thinks some of the shared-storage players are giving their wares a questionable spin. According to David Vellante, co-founder and senior storage analyst for analyst forum Wikibon, RevStor's claim to be a security vendor may not play well. Vellante says most users won't go to a startup for data security.

Marketing quirks aside, Vellante sees an interesting future ahead for companies intent on virtualizing leftover server storage or simply building SANs on commodity servers. "I do think these inventions have value and I expect many of these companies will get bought out by larger players looking to get into this space and/or as a hedge," he writes in an email to Byte and Switch.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Cleversafe Inc.

  • FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC)

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Seanodes

  • The StorageIO Group

  • StorMagic Ltd.

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