EqualLogic Draws Bank's Interest

IP SAN startup gets foot in the door at a major US bank. What's it offering that others aren't?

February 1, 2003

3 Min Read
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A major U.S. bank based in Boston is checking out the beta version of upstart EqualLogic Inc.'s IP storage subsystem -- and the bank's storage manager says it beats anything he's seen from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) or Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) in a long time (see EqualLogic Debuts 'PeerStorage' and EqualLogic Takes Flight).

The bank in question requested anonymity [ed. note: principally because it has petabytes of storage from the aforementioned suppliers!] but its interest in EqualLogics new approach gives credit to the startup's plans, which therefore deserve a mention.

Nashua, N.H.-based EqualLogic has been developing its architecture, which it calls PeerStorage, for about 18 months. The idea is to build storage arrays on a brick-by-brick basis, paying as you go, with the system taking care of the labor-intensive administrative tasks involved in managing the growth, the company says.

IBM Corp.'s (NYSE: IBM) Almaden Research Center is building something similar with its Collective Intelligent Bricks project, envisioning a time when customers will stack simple modular systems piece-by-piece as demand grows, instead of buying monolithic systems.

"Managing a shared storage environment is overwhelmingly complex today -- it’s dragging down the whole industry," says Peter Hayden, president and CEO of EqualLogic. "We’ve built a system that is self-managing... that automates the provisioning of new disk drives and RAID levels to alleviate this problem."The bank mentioned above is evaluating EqualLogic's product and says it will be another quarter or so before it makes a decision to buy. "Adding new storage shelves that play together seamlessly reduces the administrative overhead considerably," says the infrastructure manager in charge of storage at the bank. "Our systems engineer doesn’t have to reconfigure disks, initialize them, and carve up the different RAID sets separately -- it can all be done automatically." He says EqualLogic’s storage unit is scalable from very small to multiterabyte configurations.

"Most of the other modular offerings on the market starting at the midsize for a rack-mount frame are $50,000 to $150,000 before you’ve even put the disks in," says our infrastructure manager. "With EqualLogic, you can add disks as you go and load balance across them. We were compelled by the lower installation costs as you go."

While the exact product details of EqualLogic’s system remain a closely guarded secret at this point, we do know that PeerStorage uses low-cost ATA disk drives and is based on the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)'s iSCSI specification. "This makes the per-port cost lower than Fibre Channel, which is how they have brought down the costs," says the bank's storage manager. EqualLogic expects to start shipping its product sometime in the first half of 2003.

Interestingly, if the bank buys EqualLogic it will be for second-tier storage, keeping EMC for first-tier applications. Which raises the question: Is HP getting the boot? "We are still evaluating everything -- I am not in a position to say," the infrastructure manager says. "A purchase decision will depend on how EqualLogic plays out pushing this idea and getting customers."

Given that the system is IP-based, this is likely to be a slow process, as users gradually warm up to IP storage. Still, EqualLogic has top-tier backers that should keep it in the game for the foreseeable future.The 56-employee startup has raised $12 million in funding to date from Sigma Partners and Charles River Ventures, a notable VC in the storage space. CRV was also an investor in Pirus Networks, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) last year, and it also backs Acopia Networks Inc., Nauticus Networks Inc., Netezza Corp., and Storigen Systems Inc.

That said, EqualLogic will meet with its fair share of competition as all the incumbent storage suppliers head toward modular architectures and a bunch of other startups chase the emerging IP SAN market, including Intransa Inc., LeftHand Networks, and Pillar Data Systems (see Engineers Take LeftHand Turn, Intransa Quiet on Plansa, and Larry's Stealth Storage Startup

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