Peter Wang, Founder, VP & CTO, Intransa

"There's more than enough market for all the iSCSI startups. It's a matter of keeping up with demand."

May 25, 2004

9 Min Read
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You can call Intransa Inc. the optimistic IP SAN company.

While competitors and industry analysts consider iSCSI a good fit for lower-end SANs (at least for now), Intransa came out of the blocks last year with a product it called a "full-featured SAN" aimed at the midrange (see Intransa Cranks Up IP SAN and Intransa Ships IP SAN).

So, it's no surprise that the company's founder and CTO Peter Wang is keener than ever on IP SANs now that they are actually starting to pick up steam (see ISCSI Shakin' Goin' On). Wang claims the major challenge for IP SAN startups is to keep up with market share, and he maintains IP SANs will dominate the midrange within two years.

"Theres more than enough market for all the startups," he says. "It’s a question of how fast the limited number of iSCSI vendors can engage the market. It’s a matter of keeping up with demand."

Not surprisingly, Wang feels his company is well positioned to compete with fellow startups EqualLogic Inc., LeftHand Networks Inc., and StoneFly Networks Inc., as well as those established companies, like Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), that jumped into the iSCSI market early. But what happens when the major Fibre Channel players get into the game?"I think it would help us, because it will drive the market," Wang says.

Pretty fancy talk for a company that's had its bumpy moments getting off the ground – for instance, going through three CEOs during the first half of 2003 before it shipped product (see Intransa Lands a Third CEO). No big deal there either, Wang says, just the normal growing pains of a startup.

Before Intransa, Wang was senior director of the Technology Development Center at 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS). The technologies he researched there included packet telephony, high-speed networks, broadband access, intelligent infrastructure, and network appliances. Before joining 3Com in 1995, Wang worked as a systems architect and held other positions for ESL, a subsidiary of TRW Inc.

We sat down with Wang earlier this month at our New York headquarters to get progress reports on iSCSI and Intransa.

Click on the links below for specific portions of the interview:

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Byte and Switch: Did iSCSI take more time to take off than you expected?

Wang: Our first shipment was last July, so from our standpoint, the timing was pretty good. If it came out the year before, we’d be behind.

Byte and Switch: Now IP SANs are starting to make traction. But how many IP SAN startups can the market support?

Wang: There’s more than enough market for all the startups. It’s a question of how fast the limited number of iSCSI vendors can engage the market. It’s a matter of keeping up with demand. The entire midrange will become iSCSI within two years. I believe we’ll see a very fast ramp through ’05 and ’06.Byte and Switch: Why will iSCSI dominate the midrange?

Wang: There aren’t that many good inexpensive choices in the midrange. By the time you load your feature set – replication, mirroring, etc. – and add the cost of a Fibre Channel infrastructure, it’s still two to three times the price of an iSCSI solution.

Byte and Switch: So you don’t see a weeding out of the IP SAN startups like we’re seeing with the TPC/IP offload engines? [See Nvidia Buys iReady and iReady to Go.]

Wang: We recommend you don’t use TOEs with Windows, because you don’t need to pump data that fast. Windows users by and large don’t need TOEs. With UNIX you’re dealing a lot more with slower CPUs. TOEs would be highly beneficial in those environments.

ISCSI is a perfect fit for the Windows environment. 10-Gig Ethernet will probably take off in late ’05. You have a 10-gig copper version out today, but not twisted pair. The standard is expected next year for using twisted pair copper, and that will drop the cost down probably to below $3,000 a port. That just becomes another argument for iSCSI.Byte and Switch: When do you think the major Fibre Channel storage system vendors will make a strong run at iSCSI?

Wang: We hear Dell will soon add an iSCSI brick, and EMC will add iSCSI to Clariion by the second half of this year. I think it would help us because it will drive the market up in general.

We’re working with IBM right now, especially their digital media group [see Intransa Enters IBM Zone]. The natural question is what do they see in us? They work with us because the big guys don’t have the solutions. We have products and technology that’s designed to scale, and that is not something you can build overnight. The concept is simple, but the implementation isn’t simple. We’re building a distributed system. We focus on management, scaleability, and automation. Larger vendors focus on the storage component itself.

Byte and Switch: Who are the typical IP SAN customers?

Wang: Right now they are departments, workgroups, parts of medium and large enterprises. Also small business like medical centers or law firms with 150 or so people. They have small IT shops, and they want things that are easy to implement and don’t require specialized knowledge. The majority of our customers are running Windows, with Linux next. We just qualified on Solaris and we’re qualifying on AIX, which is big in Asia.Our customers are looking to move to network storage from DAS, or they have network storage, want more, and don’t want to pay the same money they’re paying now. They have three options – EMC Clariion, NetApp’s iSCSI SAN, and the third option is one of the iSCSI startups.

Byte and Switch: Who are the worst candidates for IP SANs?

Wang: People running high-end transaction applications, because it wasn’t optimized for speed. ATA drives have fundamental performance limitations.

Ultimately, iSCSI will be used for transaction processing. When you have a comfort level of running IP, then you can optimize it. You’ll go from the midrange upward to data center for transaction processing.

Byte and Switch: How big of an issue is security with IP SANs?Wang: It’s somewhat different than a year ago. When we talked to people last year, the first thing they did was challenge performance. Then they found out performance wasn’t that different for a lot of applications. Then it was, "What about security?" Well, security really isn’t that different than with Fibre Channel either. The primary requirement is access control. That’s why you see firewalls. The ultimate threat is physical access from inside, and it doesn’t matter then if you have iSCSI or Fibre Channel. Security comes down to process, as opposed to specific mechanisms.

Byte and Switch: What’s unique about Intransa’s architecture?

Wang: We designed our architecture to scale with the network. It’s not just a RAID array. We’ve taken a different look at the foundation. We use an open standard to leverage the network. We start with a scaleable network underneath, and then build services on top.

We start from the bottom up. Each disk drive is an IP disk, it has an IP address. Then we build virtualization on top of that, and services on top of that.

Editor's Note: Intransa's modular IP 5000 systems consists of iSCSI-based back-end disk controllers connected to its dual storage controllers. The system connects to servers over Gigabit Ethernet. Each enclosure holds up to 16 ATA disks for an IP SAN with a maximum configuration of 64 disks with 2-TByte to 16-TByte capacity. Byte and Switch: So, how are you different from other IP SANs?

Wang: We broke apart the controller from the storage part and put the network in between. With Fibre Channel you have two networks, one in front and one in back of the controller. The other IP SANs like LeftHand or EqualLogic, connect disk to disk. When you try to build a large system, you wind up with multiple hops. In our case, the controller is a node on the network. The data path goes from the host to storage to disk. The other difference is our controller is built as a cluster.

Later this year we’ll be adding features, such as SNMP [Simple Network Management Protocol], NDMP [Network Data Management Protocol], and remote replication. Customers say the reason they want IP SANs is it makes it easier to do disaster recovery over the WAN.

Byte and Switch: Let’s talk about your company. You went through three CEOs at the start of last year. Have things stabilized since then?

Wang: When startups change CEOs, they will usually put in an interim CEO until they find a replacement. That’s what happened with us last year. But we’re building an executive team. We just announced a marketing VP [Ravi Pendekanti]; and a CFO [Greg Ayers] came on board in February. [See Intransa Gets New Engineering VP and Sun Marketing Vet Joins Intransa.]Byte and Switch: How are sales going?

Wang: We’re close to doubling our quarter-over-quarter revenue. We did $400,000 in the third quarter, $800,000 in the fourth quarter, and $1.2 million in the first quarter of this year. We expect $2 million in this quarter.

Byte and Switch: You had an $8 million Round C funding in January to bring your total to $49 million [see Intransa Inhales $8M]. Will you need more?

Wang: We’re doing a funding round now. Our investors have been supportive. We expect this D round to take us through cash-flow breakeven in the second or third quarter next year.

Byte and Switch: How big is your company?Wang: We’re close to 80 people. We’re ramping up a development team in India [see Intransa Gets Support From India]. Now we’re using an outsourcing partner. A year from now we’ll take them in house. We hope to have 15 to 20 people there by the end of the year.

Byte and Switch: Do you do any direct sales?

Wang: Last quarter, three quarters of our sales came through channels. We have Bell Micro in the United States and Europe (see Bell Micro to Resell Intransa). We do not expect to do direct sales after this quarter unless an enterprise customer demands it.

Byte and Switch: You’ve been actively trying to expand international sales [see Intransa Expands Overseas]. How’s that going?

Wang: We’re expanding sales internationally in Asia and Europe. Asia is clearly growing faster than Europe. India is especially looking for cost-effective technologies [see Intransa Goes to India With SES]. And not just workgroups. They’re looking at iSCSI for high-end applications. We started selling in India in the fourth quarter last year. We sold three systems there at the end of the first quarter. There’s also substantial interest in the U.K.Byte and Switch: What’s your relationship with IBM like?

Wang: We’re working with them on multiple fronts. We just signed with Global Services

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