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Carbonite sues Promise Technology for unreliable storage

Online backup service provider Carbonite is suing Promise Technology, claiming that the storage vendor’s arrays did not perform to specifications and prevented Carbonite users from restoring their files.

The lawsuit, as reported by the Boston Globe, was filed in Suffolk Superior Court last week and alleges that Carbonite “suffered “substantial damage” to its business and reputation from products manufactured by Promise Technology Inc. and marketed to Carbonite by Interactive Digital Systems Inc,” which is also named in the suit.

According to the Globe story and other reports over the last several days, Carbonite alleged that it lost 7500 customers’ data in several separate incidents because of the problem with Promise, but Carbonite’s CEO has since released a statement saying that number is misleading:

On March 21, The Boston Globe reported that Carbonite is suing one of its vendors for defective hardware that was purchased in 2007. This lawsuit stems from an incident that occurred nearly two years ago. The article (and subsequent coverage by other outlets) references court documents which say that Carbonite “lost the backups of over 7,500 customers.” It is possible that readers will walk away from this with the impression that 7,500 customers were unable to restore their files from Carbonite. This is not the case. Let me explain.

All of the affected customers had their backups re-started immediately and automatically. A small number of these customers had their PCs crash before their re-started backups were complete. These customers were unable to restore all off their files from Carbonite. We took full responsibility for what happened, and I did my best to apologize personally to each of these customers.

We addressed the technical issues that caused the above problems, and in the nearly two years since the incident, we have not encountered further problems. That said, our lawsuit seeks a refund for the defective products we were sold.

The obvious question becomes, why is Carbonite suing two years later if there have been no further problems? If there have been no further problems, how can Carbonite prove damage to its business and reputation? It sounds like PR-wise, Carbonite is trying to do two different things at once: present a dramatic story to the court in the hopes of winning the lawsuit, while minimizing the drama to its potential customers who may be reading in the press. They probably can’t have it both ways.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Promise sent the following statement to Storage Soup this afternoon:

We have looked into Carbonite’s allegations and believe that they have no merit. Our investigation indicates that our products were neither implemented nor managed using industry best practices. … We look forward to a successful conclusion to this matter that demonstrates the quality of our products and our overall commitment to the customer.

I will give Carbonite points for chutzpah, though. Imagine if every enterprise storage user sued their vendor over problems like this. It’s a pretty good indication that storage for cloud services will be under high scrutiny, even as every storage vendor tries to climb aboard the cloud bandwagon.

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This article seems to criticize Carbonite and promote Promise. After having been burned by Promise myself I have to take exception. It seems like Promise is doing a good PR job to hide their problems. Here is my testimony and witness to shortcomings at Promise. First, let me say I am a satisfied user of four VM610i units for the last few years in our satellite/television/streaming environment. Our problems with Promise began when we needed to upgrade to increase our storage capacity. We chose to upgrade to a pair of VR1840i units for various reasons. We were assured by Promise this was an upgrade. Sometime after installation and implementation into production we began to notice occasional problems with our SAN. As the units became more heavily used these problems increased. Eventually we could not ignore the problems anymore and tracked them down to the new VR1840i units. As we focused on diagnosing the problem we realized there was a severe performance problem with the VR1840i units. The closer we looked the more clearly the deep nature of the problem becamse. We immediately contacted Promise technical support. They ran us through the usual requirements to upgrade to the latest firmware and obvious questions about proper implementation. Meanwhile I proceeded to develop a test procedure which clearly documented the performance difference with hard numbers comparing the VM610i performance and the VR1840i in great detail. After being upgraded to higher levels of tech support we began to hear comments about design limitations. In short, be forewarned, the VR1840i units are NOT! an upgrade to the VM610i. We are replacing the VR1840i units at our own cost because it took too long to realize they were a bad purchase. The VM610i has been discontinued and they are still claiming it is an upgrade to go to the VR1840i units. They are also telling us we need to make optional hardware upgrades to the cache of the unit even though the default cache is already twice the size of the VM610i which works just fine.
I've got several VessRAID 18x0i boxes.. and several other Promise storage devices, including a rather old Apple-marketed RAID and I've yet to have a single failure on any of them.  No data corruption and not even a bad FAN.  The Apple device in particular ran in an old 'server room' for at least a year.. it was actually an old dirty Chemistry lab with frequent chiller failures that we had to endure while our current DataCenter was built.
I've been running my Promise devices for nearly 5 years now with the most recent being over a year old.

I use them for file storage and over the wire backups and I can't say enough good things about them.   Granted they're not nearly as fast as my Dell/Equalogic SAN boxes but those run $30k-$55K each with far less storage than I get from a $6K purchase of a 1840i Vess and Drives.  And.. I've had two of my four Equalogic boxes completely fail with serial drive failures [4 in 18 hours last time] that appeared to be initiated by or abetted by the device.  Both devices were eventually pulled and replaced by Dell. 

Promise has mainly focused on inexpensive storage and in that segment they're the best solution I've found.   If I wasn't locked into my Equalogic environment [virtualization] I'd seriously consider their newer SAN solution.. and I'd likely buy in if they could provide a good support contract or parts kit.

The VR1840i boxes sell bare for about $2200 at the vendor we use so buyer beware if you need a high-throughput storage system.  I'd never hook these up to the ~800 core cluster we manage but lets be reasonable here.  For what they are, inexpensive bulk storage, they're awesome.   I recommend them every time the discussion of storage needs along the type we address with these comes up.
In fact, we're currently going back and forth about whether one of our researchers should get a VessRAID or a storage server with FreeNAS for her group's backups.  After initially recommending the Vess, I'm leaning toward FreeNAS for ZFS but the Vess has it beat by a long shot on price.  If they'd only write an iSCSI initiator for OS X.. it'd be a near perfect device for some of our applications.