Two Cool Technologies at Spring SNW 2011 That May Get Hot Later This Year

Having come out of the data center and spent many years now as an analyst, it is difficult for me to get overly excited about any new storage technologies that I see at Storage Networking World (SNW.) While these technologies are most certainly “cool,” in the stoic world of storage the odds of them going “hot” are often slim. But at this Spring 2011 SNW, the Nimbus Data Systems S-class and HP Data Protector Instant Recovery look to have above average chances of breaking through.

Cool Technology #1 –

Nimbus Data Systems S-class Flash Storage System

This was probably the coolest up-and-coming technology that I saw exhibited at SNW. However what made the S-class so interesting from my perspective had less do with the fact that it was entirely comprised of flash, that it was a scale-out NAS storage system or even that it was recently proclaimed the “Product of the Year” by Storage magazine and

Rather the two features that caught my attention about the S-class were its price point and its ability to guarantee write performance (as I understood it) over a five year period.

In talking to its CEO and Founder, Thomas Z Isakovich, at SNW he essentially built the system and paid for it himself from the ground up with little or no outside funding over the last five years. The outcome of his efforts is the S-class’s HALO Operating System that enables it to deliver a flash based memory system at a starting price of around $25,000.

Nimbus does this by assembling the raw NAND chips itself which eliminates its reliance upon third party providers of drives such as Pliant or STEC. Further, it appears to have good momentum for a company having only come out of stealth mode 6 months ago as it has already shipped over 200 systems and has a notable customer base.

Apparently the S-class’s combination of a low price, high performance, density and efficient  use of power is making customers in Asia and Europe big fans of this product. However in the same breath one can also see why Nimbus has little or no presence in the US.

There are no customer case studies on its website that validate its use in their environments, in-depth technical information about its product is sparse and it does not apparently even have a US sales force. However assuming it can deliver this collatoral and beef up its presence in the field, I cannot see any reason why one will not be hearing a lot more about Nimbus in the coming year.

Hot Technology #2 –  HP Data Protector Instant Recovery

HP Data Protector invokes the same reaction in me when I talked about the city of Omaha, NE, years ago. At that time I was being recruited to take a position at a company in Omaha and the recruiter noticed some hesitancy in me about my willingness to move to Omaha so she asked me what my opinion was Omaha. I candidly replied, “I have no opinion about Omaha because I don’t know that much about it.”

My sentiments about HP Data Protector prior to my meeting with the HP team this past Wednesday closely mirrored how I felt about Omaha over a decade ago. HP Data Protector pops up from time to time in conversations and it always scores well in DCIG Buyer’s Guides that cover backup software but I still never really had a strong opinion one way or the other on HP Data Protector itself.

That opinion changed for the better this week after learning more about its Instant Recovery snapshot feature in HP Data Protector 6.2. What made this feature interesting is not that it works with HP’s Zero Downtime Backup feature and does snapshots with arrays across the HP StorageWorks portfolio (HP 3PAR, HP P4000, HP EVA, HP P9000/XP) as well as EMC CLARiiON and NetApp arrays. Rather what caught my attention was how similar Instant Recovery is to a database recovery technique known as journaling.

Normally when snapshots are taken, any changes to that data (adds, changes, deletions, updates) after the snapshot are taken may minimally be difficult to recreate and, in a worst case scenario, lost as the company can only restore the snapshot of the original data. This has been an issue in database environments for years so to work around that database protection tools have journaled all of the changes to the database. Now in the event that a database gets corrupted, the snapshot is first restored and then the changes that are in the journal are replayed to the appropriate point in time to minimize database data loss.

So what HP Data Protector has done is borrow that concept from the database environment and applies that to backup. Now when this feature is turned on, after snapshots are taken on any of the underlying HP storage systems or any of the other storage systems that HP Data Protector supports, all changes to the application data are recorded by HP Data Protector’s Instant Recovery feature so that application recoveries can not only occur much more quickly but much closer to the point in time when an outage occurs.

Sounds great, right? But there are two barriers to the acceptance of this feature specifically and HP Data Protector in general gaining momentum in the market. First, this feature has been available in InMage Systems Scout for years which is known inside the industry to work extremely well and is already used by managed service providers like vBC Cloud as part of their backup offering. So problem #1: Instant Recovery has no such reputation or even any evidence on its website that I could find to back up its claims that it works as promised.

Another problem that HP Data Protector suffers from is a perception problem. Even though it is widely used in HP accounts, its use in heterogeneous or non-HP environments is rarely seen as a viable option. Further, the fact that Veeam was exhibiting in HP’s booth at SNW only adds to Data Protector’s credibility problems as being an appropriate solution for non-HP environments.

So until HP overcomes this perception of being a product intended for use in only HP accounts, it is essentially conceding the heterogeneous backup market to companies like CommVault, EMC and Symantec. Further, InMage is almost in a better position to succeed than HP long term with this type of functionality since it (InMage) can be scooped up and incorporated into the product lines of any of these other products.

So there you have it, two “cool” technologies as the Spring SNW 2011 that have a real chance of becoming “hot” in 2011. However both need to overcome significant obstacles and customer objections to go from being “cool” to becoming “hot” where it matters most – in the accounts of paying customers.


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