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DataDirect Networks discusses new system, IBM relationship

DataDirect Networks (DDN) today launched a new member of its Storage Fusion Architecture (SFA) family of high-performance computing (HPC) arrays, and quickly pointed out a large customer deal involving the new system and IBM’s General Parallel File System (GPFS).

DDN claims the SFA10000-X can handle mixed workload read-write speeds of 15 GBps with solid-state drives (SSDs). It holds up to 600 drives for a maximum capacity of 1.8 PB in a rack. DDN aims the system at Big Data (analytics and a large number of objects), media and content-intensive applications. It will replace the S2A9900. DDN already has a SFA10000-E system aimed at highly virtualized environments.

DDN said Italian research center Cineca in June acquired a SFA10000-X from IBM. DDN Marketing VP Jeff Denworth offers the deal as proof that the relationship with DDN and IBM remains solid. IBM recently issued an end-of-life notice to customers for its DCS9900 – based on DDN’s S2A9900 — and suggested the DCS3700 that IBM sells from DDN competitor NetApp Engenio as a replacement.

The Engenio platform has competed with DDN for years, and is now in the hands of NetApp – another IBM partner. Denworth said IBM and DDN still have OEM deals for two other systems – including the S2A 6620 that IBM sells as a backend to its SONAS — and said IBM may have plans for the SFA10000-X.
“IBM discontinued one system among the portfolio we sell through them, and that system is four-year-old technology,” he said.

So why didn’t IBM replace the SFA99000 with the SFA10000-X? “All I can say is the SFA10000-X has a certain customer profile,” Denworth said. “I can’t make any statements about IBM’s intentions for that product.”

DDN executives call DDN the world’s largest privately held storage vendor, and claim they are doing well enough that the loss of any single partner wouldn’t break the company. DDN claims 83% revenue growth from 2007 through 2010 and is on a pace for more than $200 million in revenue this year.

Yet despite a flurry of storage system vendor acquisitions last year and others looking to go public, DDN remains independent and private. DDN EVP of strategy and technology Jean-Luc Chatelain said an IPO will only happen if the terms are enticing enough.

“We’re privately held, and we like it that way,“ he said. “An IPO is not an end for us, it’s a means. If we can use an IPO as a tool for additional currency for growth, we’ll look at that.”

DDN is growing its executive team. Chatelain joined from Hewlett-Packard in February. This month DDN hired former HP executive Erwan Menard as COO, Adaptec veteran Christopher O’Meara as CFO, and Quantum veteran William Cox as VP of worldwide channel sales.

On the technology front, DDN is using enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) SSDs for the first time with the SFA10000-X. It is also embracing the Big Data label that storage vendors have been throwing around since EMC acquired scale-out NAS vendor Isilon late last year.

“DDN has been doing Big Data since 1998, everybody else is ust catching up,” Chatelain said. “I don’t like the term, but everybody’s using it now. Our customers do Big Data for a living.”

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