Storage Oddities Emerge at Interop

A handful of odd, intriguing products showcase trends in storage networking UPDATED 5/2 1:45 PM

May 1, 2008

7 Min Read
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The Interop trade show in Las Vegas this week has produced a sizable number of interesting storage-related announcements -- a few of which can safely be termed unusual. From removable storage to prestandard FCOE networking, these products point to new directions in storage, even as they leave some of us scratching our heads.

We've gathered some highlights of Interop's storage oddities not only to focus on innovations and trends, but as a reminder that tomorrow's breakthrough may be today's three-legged cyclops.

Here's a brief rundown of notable -- if quirky -- announcements:

InfiniBand WAN bridge. Network Equipment Technologies, best known for its communications equipment, has inked an agreement to sell an InfiniBand WAN bridging solution formerly available only to government customers via channel partner Colfax International. The goal is to enable enterprises to create high-performance virtual clusters across multiple sites.

Who needs WAN-linked InfiniBand clusters? The U.S. Naval Research Lab, for one. According to Haseeb Budhani, director of strategic planning for NET, that agency and a handful of others have reduced the cost of high-speed WAN links by deploying the NET NX5000 Series InfiniBand bridging solution. The box reduces latency for data traffic over high-cost ATM links, he says, where it functions like a large, two-port InfiniBand switch, encapsulating InfiniBand traffic in ATM or Sonet physical-layer coding.Budhani acknowledges that the NET switch, currently priced between from $150,000 per node, isn't for everyone. "But if you're spending a few hundred thousand a month on WAN links, it can help," he insists. A new version, priced from about $60,000, will debut in August, he says.

NET isn't the only supplier with this kind of gear. A Canadian company, Obsidian, has offered long-distance InfiniBand to U.S. government agencies since 2005.

Massive LAN/WAN/SAN switch. OnPATH Technologies offers a physical-layer switch that connects equipment in Sonet and T1/E1 or T3/E3 WANs, 10-Mbit/s to 1-Gbit/s Ethernet LANs, and Escon, Ficon, or Fibre Channel SANs. At Interop, the vendor is demonstrating that switch operating in a 10-Gbit/s FCOE network powered by Intel adapters.

OnPATH doesn't like the phrase "patch panel," and it's not too keen on "matrix switch" either, but its Universal Connectivity System (UCS) is among the latest, most futuristic iterations of those technologies. Among other things, it features an internal database of physical-layer interfaces that can help streamline various management tasks.

Based on products once owned by Inrange and CNT and spun out of Brocade about 14 months ago, OnPATH's gear can handle up to 4,000 4-Gbit/s FC ports, or 1,000 10-Gbit/s ports. While it doesn't replace routers, directors, or other data center equipment, it can nonetheless help reduce the number of interswitch links required in a given network.According to CTO Larry Cantwell, EMC has one of these in its labs, and many companies use it to streamline disaster recovery testing. "Some disaster recovery sites have to be tested on a daily basis. We reduce what used to take a couple of days to a process that takes five minutes," he says.

The UCS is priced at about $400 to $600 per port, but Cantwell says OnPATH discounts the frame significantly and prices are customized per enterprise.

Virtual storage software for x86 machines. Startup Kapsean is offering beta software to would-be OEMs and VARs that's designed to create block-level, iSCSI-compatible storage pools from x86 servers and workstations. Differentiators from companies like LeftHand Networks and Datacore include low cost and simplicity, execs insist. The company plans to offer its software in a downloadable public beta from its Web site later this month.

Fiber-finder service for enterprise DR and replication design. Optical networking equipment supplier Ciena has partnered with a telecom consulting firm to offer enterprise ITers a way to quickly find fiber connectivity for disaster recovery, replication, and other uses.

Cienas FiberFinder services use consultancy NEF's FiberLocator database to hone in on millions of miles of established fiber connections in over 100 metro areas nationwide. The database contains maps, interconnection points, central office locations, and other details required to extend IT services over a fiber WAN.No pricing was available for FiberFinder at press time.

Pre-standard FCOE adapter. Mellanox won a "Best of Interop" award from InformationWeek for its ConnectX EN 10-Gigabit Ethernet server and storage I/O adapter with Fibre Channel over lossless Ethernet (FCOE). (The name's a mouthful, but it's supplied by the vendor.) The adapter, available as a PCI-Express card for servers and storage systems or as "LAN on motherboard" silicon for OEMing in same, is billed by Mellanox as a "single chip FC HBA inside a 10-GigE NIC." Irresistible!

Designed to consolidate I/O in data center equipment, the adapter consumes about 9.3 watts of power. It gives virtualized servers direct access to I/O hardware instead of requiring them to use a hypervisor for access. As for the FCOE firmware, which supports Cisco's Priority Based Flow Control to make Ethernet more reliable, Mellanox doesn't care that it's pre-standard: "Mellanox is closely tracking standardization developments in the T11 standards body and will deliver upgrades to its current solution as necessary to interoperate with newer FCOE gateway and switch products as they become available in the market," states a spokesman.

FCOE was also a key feature of OnPath's Interop demonstration, in which it demonstrates its Universal Connectivity System 2900 running in a network with The UCS™ 2900 provides protocol-agnostic layer 1 connectivity for common data center and network protocols such as Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE). 10-Gigabit Ethernet traffic driven through a Fibre Channel test application using Intel® 10-Gigabit XF SR Server Adapters

Laptop DAS. Canadian startup Storage Appliance Corporation is touting DVD technology as the solution to SMBs' backup woes, unveiling its Clickfree Office product at Interop this week.Clickfree Office consists of just a DVD, which is inserted into a user’s PC or laptop. This can support more than 200 file types, including Microsoft Office and Adobe, according to Storage Appliance. When the DVD runs, software automatically searches and backs up files such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Photoshop. A pack of five DVDs cost $15. Clickfree Office is available now.

Storage Appliance isn't the first to use DVD technology for data storage. Vendors like Powerfile have done so for years. And vendors such as HP and Iomega, which was recently snapped up by EMC for $213 million, offer external hard drives for PC backup. So far, though, Storage Appliance is among the first to deploy the direct-to-PC-slot approach.

The point is to help users back up their data easily and more regularly. “Today, 85 to 90 percent of the population does not back up their PC,” said Ian Collins, the Storage Appliance president, in a statement, adding that the Clickfree DVD can reduce the risk of an embarassing data loss.

Rebootable passwords for external encrypted drives. CMS Products has announced software for its BounceBack Professional Disaster Recovery Software that guarantees the retrieval of externally attached encrypted hard drives after a disaster. Through a feature being shipped in May, the software lets users assign an ATA password to external full-disk-encryption (FDE) drives that are attached to servers or workstations using the BounceBack software. The passwords are recognizable by the system's basic input/output system (BIOS). Hence, if a system fails, the CMS software will bring up the attached encrypted drives along with the bare-metal restoral of the system itself.

Web 2.0 firewall. While not specifically storage related, the PA-4000 Series firewall from Palo Alto Networks is nonetheless a data protection device, also noteworthy for clinching another "Best of Interop" award this week.The PA-4000 Series is aimed at users looking to deploy Web 2.0 applications. Whereas traditional firewalls focus their attention on blocking traffic at specific ports, the PA-4000 instead profiles the traffic to help determine which applications should be allowed to pass and which should be blocked. The reason for this is that many Web 2.0 applications do not need to use a specific port and will simply find another if the first port is blocked.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.

  • Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN)

  • CMS Products Inc.

  • Colfax International

  • DataCore Software Corp.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • Iomega Corp. (NYSE: IOM)

  • Kapsean Inc.

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX)

  • Network Equipment Technologies Inc. ( (NYSE: NWK)

  • Obsidian Strategics Inc.

  • OnPATH Technologies

  • Palo Alto Networks Inc.

  • PowerFile Inc.

  • Storage Appliance Corp.

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