Zetera Rewrites iSCSI

Startup's IP protocol competes with iSCSI on the low end

January 13, 2005

3 Min Read
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With iSCSI just entering its first full year as a strong alternative to Fibre Channel in SANs, a startup is already sniping at iSCSIs heels with another IP storage technology.

Zetera founder and CEO Chuck Cortright says his Irvine, Calif.-based startup has patents pending for its own transport on top of IP that enables RAID without a specialized controller (see Zetera Unveils New Storage Solutions).Zetera uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol) rather than the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) used by iSCSI. The idea is to bump up performance without the need for TCP offload engine (TOE) cards.

Zetera says the method is cheaper and easier to use than iSCSI, which is cheaper and easier to use than Fibre Channel.

As iSCSI just begins to take off, is there room for a proprietary IP protocol developed by a tiny newcomer? Cortright and his fellow Zetera founders -- former Western Digital Corp. (NYSE: WDC) engineers Bill Frank and Tom Ludwig -- hope to line up enough partners to make their technology a de facto industry standard.

That would be quite an accomplishment for a 16-person startup with less than $5 million in funding. But the two-year-old company came out of stealth last week by announcing two partners, StorCase Technology Inc. and Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR), and Cortright says there are more signed up (see StorCase Uses Zetera Tech).Zetera uses IP multicasting technology for RAID functions such as striping, mirroring, and spanning to create logical drives. It works through Ethernet switches and serves as a controller inside enclosures provided by its partners.

Netgear will use Zetera technology in devices that allow consumers to share files, while StorCase is chasing SOHO and SMB customers. Both hope to ship product in the second quarter. Zetera’s business plan calls for it to eventually work its way to the enterprise. “Our device is easily adapted into environments that need large amounts of storage,” Zetera CTO Frank says.

Mike Karp, analyst for IT consulting firm Enterprise Management Associates, says the technology wins points for originality, and as a cheaper alternative to iSCSI. But its originality could hurt as well. “For SMBs, particularly the ‘S’ part of SMBs, cost effectiveness is a good argument,” Karp says. “The downside is, it’s new stuff and not even new in the way iSCSI was new a couple of years ago. Everybody knew SCSI. They don’t know this protocol. There are perceptual hurdles people will have to get over.”

At least one of Zetera’s partners is hedging its bets. StorCase product manager Chris Wong says the JBOD and RAID enclosure vendor will enter the networked storage market in the second quarter with the Zetera system and iSCSI SANs. StorCase’s Zetera box will include Ethernet ports, removable hard drives, and software based on Zetera’s protocol.

“We’ll offer iSCSI for customers that do not want to try a proprietary protocol, and Zetera for customers that see the advantages and are willing to try,” he says. It's unknown just how much those brave souls will save on Zetera, because it hasn’t set its licensing fees yet, but Wong expects it will cost about 85 percent of his iSCSI systems.Cortright sees Zetera as Dolby for storage. In other words, it provides the enabling technology just as Dolby does for audio consumer products. The Zetera name will appear on its OEMs’ boxes but not on the products.

It’s not surprising that Cortright uses the Dolby analogy. He previously launched a digital entertainment broadcasting Website owned by SRS Labs and interactive media publisher Graphix Zone Inc. Zetera’s technology was originally intended for sharing digital movies and other consumer applications.

Zetera’s funding of just under $5 million comes mostly from the founders and angel investors. Most of its staff is in engineering and software development. Cortright says he expects to grow to around 25 employees over the next six months, but doesn’t see Zentera getting much bigger than that. Its business model calls for no manufacturing and little need for sales. “We’ll never get huge,” he says.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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