Newcomer To Networked Storage Plays Up Manageability

Zambeel says it can cut storage costs by automating some management tasks.
When networked options arrived five years ago, storage was supposed to get easier to administer and cheaper than directly attached storage. While administration is usually easier for file access-based network-attached storage connected via IP networks, costs haven't gone down for customers. A new vendor entered the scene last week and could at least help drive the kind of savings customers have expected all along from NAS.

Zambeel Inc. has begun shipping its Aztera line of NAS systems. The vendor is taking a modular approach to storage, letting customers start small and grow to higher volumes of capacity while retaining a single view of all the information. Customers can enter the Aztera appliance world with 3 terabytes of data and eventually increase that same system up to 200 terabytes. Along the way, the appliances will provide access to the information at the rate of 2 Gbytes per second.

As the vendor goes up against the likes of EMC Corp. and Network Appliance Inc., it will need to bring more than speeds and feeds to the customer. Zambeel might have that extra something in its enterprise storage resource provisioning software. That app is designed to let IT administrators program the Aztera appliance once. After that, the appliance would take over and allocate capacity at various times of the day to different projects or apps.

Such automatic allocation could spare companies the brunt of their networked storage costs. Management of the systems can be five to eight times the cost of the system. An Aztera system with 7.5 terabytes of capacity is priced at $300,000.

Darren Thomas, president and CEO at Zambeel, launched the company in March and has 120 employees. Thomas says he realizes he's not going to lowball the big players in the NAS market. Instead of the controller-based systems they offer, Aztera is actually a cluster of blades. This makes expansion easier and bumps performance appreciably. And the enterprise storage resource provisioning software should reduce and simplify that costly administration, he says. "Our fluid file system lets customers move files anywhere they want to put them."

One beta-test customer deployed an Aztera in December and had it up and running the same day. The University of Wisconsin in Madison, which typically has 42,000 students on campus during the school year, just keeps adding files from different departments to the Aztera. System administrator Tim Czerwonka says he's impressed that there's no degradation in performance. Files have come from areas such as undergraduate students, a research group working off of hundreds of servers, and some science labs.

Says Czerwonka, "We just partition the system, and the graphical user interface is very straightforward and easy to figure out."