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Best Storage Products of 2007

Our sixth annual Products of the Year awards recognize the 15 new or enhanced storage products that rose to the top in 2007. The editors of Storage magazine and, along with a panel of users and industry experts, selected these winning products based on their innovation and performance, among other factors.

New companies and their products garner most of this year's awards.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the 2007 Storage magazine and Products of the Year, it's that vendors can't rest on their laurels. New guys on the block pop up every day with fresh ideas and technologies, and better ways of doing things.

Only a few vendors from last year's winners' list are back, and none of the 2006 gold medal winners showed up this year. You'll have to keep reading to find the winners, but here are a few companies that failed to make the 2007 list:

Brocade Communications Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Emulex Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., QLogic Corp. and Symantec Corp.

Who does that leave? Three startups won in one category, and two startups won in two other product groups. Three of the winners are companies that launched their first products in 2007. Award winners include two virtualization software products--no, not VMware--a storage grid system, a self-encrypting hard drive and a disaster recovery (DR) monitoring application. Another product does compression, but not data deduplication. A couple handle the thankless job of gathering information on storage network devices to monitor and analyze performance. And a few traditional storage systems and backup software applications managed to sneak in.

Obviously, this year's judges (Storage and editors, and a panel of users, analysts and consultants) couldn't rest on their laurels either. We received a record number of nominations this year, making it more difficult than ever to sort and rate the products. In the end, the judges used a tried-and-true list of qualifications--innovation, performance, ease of integration, ease of use, functionality and value--to come up with the three elite products in each category.

Congratulations to the winners!

- Storage management software
- Backup and disaster recovery hardware
- Backup and disaster recovery software
- Disk and disk subsystems
- Networking equipment

Storage management software

GOLD: Akorri BalancePoint 1.7.1

Akorri's BalancePoint can generate full ViewPoint Topology maps for VMware to identify performance problems.

Storage isn't the only IT component that determines how an app performs against its service-level agreement; the network and other devices in the app's data path also play a big role. Throw in layers of virtualization and it becomes a nightmare to accurately determine why an app isn't performing up to expectations or how best to fine-tune the application's performance. To help storage admins better measure an app's performance, Akorri Inc. introduced its BalancePoint suite in January 2007 and in May released Version 1.7.1, which added support for apps running on VMware as well as Oracle database mapping.

BalancePoint collects information from physical and virtual servers, storage and the network, and then creates reports that suggest ways to optimize an application's performance. The program's reports help eliminate finger-pointing between groups that manage different segments of the data center. In addition, BalancePoint provides information and recommendations for volume provisioning and LUN migrations.

BalancePoint ships ready to run in an appliance that plugs into the Ethernet network. The appliance uses industry-standard remote protocols like SMI-S, WMI and SSH to agentlessly collect application-level statistics. BalancePoint works with arrays from major vendors such as EMC, HDS, IBM and NetApp, and with server platforms, including VMware VM guest OS, ESX Server hosts, IBM AIX, Microsoft Windows, Sun Solaris, HP-UX and Red Hat Linux.

Akorri has set an ambitious goal to track an app's performance throughout the entire storage, server and network infrastructure. Our judges rated the suite high on its innovation, but, as one notes, "The real question is whether this product will [fully] deliver on its rather bold promises."

If BalancePoint continues to refine its analytics and can collect information from more devices, it will be well on its way to becoming an indispensable application performance monitoring tool.

Storage management software

SILVER: Finisar NetWisdom Enterprise

Finisar's NetWisdom Enterprise monitors individual ports in an FC SAN at the IO transaction packet level, giving storage admins insight into application latency and bandwidth consumption.

Most SAN monitoring products provide insight into storage capacities, utilization and topology, but don't provide deep visibility into SAN data paths or analyze problems on a per-application, per-IO basis. Finisar Corp.'s NetWisdom Enterprise monitors individual ports in a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN at the IO transaction packet level, providing real-time and historical insight into application latency and bandwidth consumption. The product can help SAN administrators pinpoint the root causes of SAN issues, such as link and device failures, and congested links.

Our judges unanimously agree that the product delivers a valuable benefit for certain SAN administrators. "A nice Fibre Channel SAN performance monitoring tool," says one. "Mostly of value to large, complex SAN environments," points out another, who likes that "as an agentless solution, NetWisdom Enterprise is easy to deploy."

Pricing for a software-only version, called NetWisdom Express, starts at $12,995. The full enterprise suite, which includes 4Gb FC probes and NetWisdom software, starts at less than $25,000. Where the judges disagree was on how firms would view the product's price. One judge says the product's "visibility into the fabric is valuable and currently not available at such a low entry price." Another disagrees: "For enterprises that really need to know what is going on in their SAN, the tool is indispensable, but pricey."

Storage management software

BRONZE: Onaro Application Insight 2.0

Application Insight 2.0 software automatically validates host multipath configurations by analyzing traffic patterns.

Application Insight 2.0 analyzes storage tier assignments and load balances apps across the storage infrastructure. The software then uncovers any issues causing application performance problems.

The product leverages Onaro's SANscreen Service Insight module, which takes data from the storage environment and constructs a live path model that shows how the storage hosts communicate with the disk arrays. With path visibility established, Application Insight collects performance information from all of the switch ports in the SAN, lays this information atop the path data, and then constructs a real-time load distribution model of the storage infrastructure.

Storage teams can use SANscreen's load distribution model to identify low-traffic hosts; view the load distribution across arrays; analyze congestion for one host and determine which other hosts are competing for the same array resources; and receive multipath alerts. Product cost is $150 per port.

Backup and disaster recovery hardware

NEC HydraStor HS8

"The standard file-system interface will make it easy to integrate into existing environments," says one of our judges.

Take the hottest storage technology topics of 2007--archiving for ediscovery and compliance, building out disk-based backup systems, clustered/grid storage and data deduplication--and combine them into one package. What you'll end up with is a new product from NEC Corp. of America that shipped in 2007, dubbed HydraStor HS8.

HydraStor is dedicated to secondary storage and its grid storage architecture is what differentiates it from other disk-based backup and archive systems. In its default redundancy setting, HydraStor will tolerate three simultaneous node failures within the grid without interruption or data loss. Users seeking finer levels of redundancy or who have a large grid can use a feature called Distributed Resilient Data (DRD) to "dial up" the level of parity protection according to their specific environment, creating more parity chunks of data and tolerating the failure of more nodes. In addition to the customizable parity feature, HydraStor automatically rebalances the data across all the nodes in the grid whenever nodes are added, which means that the higher it scales, the more finely distributed data becomes across multiple nodes. Parallel processing can also aid data deduplication performance.

If needed, accelerator nodes can be added to scale the performance of the system from 200MB/sec up to 1.4GB/sec. Nodes can have different capacity and performance capabilities and can be added, removed and upgraded nondisruptively. "The performance is impressive," says one of our judges.

The system can theoretically scale out to thousands of petabytes of capacity in 2.5TB increments; an entry-level system supports 7.5TB of usable capacity or approximately 146TB of effective capacity when data dedupe is turned on. Users can get a 140TB system with CDP, replication and migration features for approximately $100,000.

Backup and disaster recovery hardware

Copan Revolution 300T/TX

The Revolution 300T/TX adds more flexibility to Copan's MAID array than previous generations.

"Green is in," according to one of our judges, and in terms of space efficiency, Copan Systems Inc.'s newest virtual tape library (VTL) may be the greenest of them all. The Revolution 300T/TX combines subfile-level data deduplication with Copan's Massive Array of Idle Disks (MAID) feature to pack up to 6PB of logical storage into one frame, which consumes approximately 10 cubic feet of space. The density cuts down on the power draw of the system, as does the ability to spin disks up and down with MAID, making Copan "an interesting early front-runner in this type of array technology," states one of our judges.

The Revolution 300T/TX also adds more flexibility to Copan's MAID array than previous generations, which were available as non-dedupe VTLs only. It offers users the ability to access its disk at the block level and as a NAS system through the use of different software modules. In addition, different software "personalities" can be mixed and matched at the shelf level within the Copan frame.

According to one of our user panelists, "this definitely is an impressive unit when you need the density and power efficiency."

Backup and disaster recovery hardware

ProStor Systems InfiniVault

InfiniVault appliances have a varying number of slots for RDX disk cartridges.

Until the announcement of this product, ProStor Systems sold its RDX removable disk cartridges primarily through OEMs. But last year, ProStor designed a unique archiving system for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which it sells under its name. InfiniVault appliances include internal disk cache and varying numbers of slots for RDX cartridges; software bundled with the products automatically migrates data according to frequency of access from the internal disk cache to the removable disks that can be sent offsite. Because the majority of the capacity is removable, the theoretical capacity of the archive is infinite and RDX disks don't need the InfiniVault system to be read later on.

InfiniVault is available in three models, ranging from a standard PC tower form factor that holds 1.6TB of internal disk to the Model 100, which supports up to 40TB internally.

Backup and disaster recovery software

CommVault Simpana 7.0 Software Suite

Simpana can search across backup and archive data, with search results displayed in a browser.

When CommVault changed the name of its data protection suite, few tears were shed for the quirky QiNetix, but some heads were scratched when the suite was rechristened Simpana. While users might have puzzled over the new name, they quickly embraced the enhancements that accompanied the new moniker. CommVault copped one of our gold awards four years ago with its QiNetix 4.2 and has been trying to expand the "big three backup app club" to the big four since then.

Simpana is at the vanguard of the long-awaited consolidation of data protection apps. It folds backup, archiving, replication (including CDP), dedupe, search and data management reporting into a single package.

Version 7.0 includes some significant additions to CommVault's core app such as a new search facility built around the FAST search engine. The new function includes full content indexing for hundreds of content types, and can search across online, backup and archive storage tiers. With its Web-based interface, the search facility is straightforward enough that business, legal or compliance staff members can use it.

CommVault also added data dedupe to Simpana 7.0 for backup and archive data. Security was beefed up with improved integration with Active Directory and LDAP. And Simpana's existing encryption features were extended with support for LTO-4 drives.

Praise for the Simpana package has been nearly universal. "I think this is the best offering on the market for unified data protection and data management," says one of our judges.

Backup and disaster recovery software

Continuity Software RecoverGuard

RecoverGuard's Dashboard provides a quick view of potential vulnerabilities in a disaster recovery scenario.

A recent Storage magazine survey questioned storage managers about their 2008 priorities and, not surprisingly, DR finished near the top of the list. Most storage pros would agree: Putting together a DR plan is pretty tough business, but testing that plan is even tougher. A DR test could cost tens of thousands of dollars--and large enterprises can expect a testing price tag in the six- or seven-figure range.

In a small but emerging category--DR testing apps--Continuity Software's RecoverGuard stands out. It monitors a DR setup to ensure that there aren't any gaps or configuration mismatches between primary and failover sites. Nothing replaces a full-scale DR test, but RecoverGuard is the next best thing, as it cuts down on the number of tests required, making them more predictable, especially in rapidly changing storage infrastructures.

RecoverGuard's agentless Data Collection Engine scans your storage environment to inventory the infrastructure and collect configuration information from a variety of sources, including storage management applications, server operating systems and some database apps. Periodic rescans pick up any changes to the environment.

Based on the configuration data collected, RecoverGuard fires up another engine for gap detection. This process highlights any potential problem areas in your DR plan, such as improperly configured replication, incomplete replicas, incompatibilities between primary and recovery sites, and out-of-sync consistency groups. A hiccup with any of those processes can stop a DR test in its tracks. At approximately $2,000 per protected server, RecoverGuard is a sound investment in DR preparedness.

Backup and disaster recovery software

Yosemite Technologies FileKeeper Corporate

FileKeeper lets you set policies that define the level of protection for different types of files.

With so much emphasis on protecting data on enterprise systems, we sometimes overlook one of the largest repositories of information: desktop and laptop PCs, which typically hold at least 50% of a company's intellectual property.

Last February, Yosemite Technologies Inc. acquired FileKeeper, a slick CDP app that runs on laptop/desktop computers and uses a technique called file-level differencing to capture only the changes to a file each time it's saved. The various file versions are stored in a Data Vault that can be local, on a network drive or even on removable media; Data Vaults on networked storage can even be backed up. Recoveries are a snap and don't require IT's involvement because FileKeeper integrates with Windows Explorer.

FileKeeper offers some corporate-class features, such as central administration and automated installation. It supports policies so firms can uniformly enforce data-retention policies for end-user generated files. Purchased in a 100-pack, you can get FileKeeper for a starting price of approximately $19 per user; add a maintenance plan and the price per user is approximately $25. That seems like a small price to pay to protect all that company data.

Disk and disk subsystems

Seagate Technology Momentus 5400 FDE.2

Seagate's Momentus 5400 FDE.2 can hold 160GB and uses just 2 watts of power for normal seek operations, a true mobile hard drive.

Encryption is the heart of modern data security, protecting all types of corporate information assets from exposure due to loss or theft. In 2007, Seagate Technology LLC incorporated full disk encryption directly onto its Momentus 5400 FDE.2 hard drive. This seemingly small step has forever changed the rules of enterprise data protection, especially for the most vulnerable enterprise data that resides on the "edge" on laptops and other mobile computing systems.

Seagate's 2.5-inch 5,400 rpm hard drive can hold 160GB and uses just 2 watts of power for normal seek operations--a true mobile hard drive. But the inclusion of full-time, whole-disk AES encryption turns the Momentus into something special. Mobile data can now be protected at full SATA interface speed with a single user password. Judges were unanimously impressed, with one judge noting, "This is a good approach to solving one of the most pressing problems in IT, encrypting laptop data." The implications of this security innovation are significant. Mobile employees can now carry ever-greater volumes of corporate data without the fear of loss or "forgetting" to run a time-consuming, independent full-disk encryption tool.

Seagate's technology keeps the disk secure and eases end-of-life concerns.

While judges liked the 5400 FDE.2, key management emerged as a potential concern. Hashed passwords are stored on the drive, and an emergency password recovery file can be kept on a separate device, so the security and integrity of encryption passwords has yet to be determined. Still, Seagate's Momentus 5400 FDE.2 hard drive represents one viable answer to perplexing storage security problems, and is easily worthy of this year's gold award for disk and disk subsystems.

Disk and disk subsystems

NetApp FAS2000 Series

NetApp's FAS2000 packs a full feature set.

While innovation and performance are often factors in our awards, judges also notice attributes like feature sets and value. In 2007, Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc.'s Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) 2000 Series brought enterprise-class functionality to the midsized and distributed enterprise at a competitive price.

The FAS2000 Series provides block (SAN) and file (NAS) data access, allowing apps like Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint and others to benefit from the storage. The FAS2020 includes 9TB in a 2U enclosure, and can be expanded externally to 65TB. The larger FAS2050 scales to 99TB. A variety of RAID levels are supported, including RAID 1, RAID 4 and RAID 6 (dual parity). The FAS family typically employs SATA drives, but 15K rpm SAS drives can be substituted to beef-up performance. The FAS2000 Series has both FC and GbE ports to support the FC Protocol for SCSI, fabric-attached and direct-attached, and iSCSI connectivity. Dual controllers are provided in an active-active configuration for highly reliable and available storage hardware.

In addition, the FAS2000 Series provides software-based features that had traditionally been available only to enterprise users. NetApp has come up with a feature-filled package for midsized firms.

Disk and disk subsystems

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Universal Storage Platform V

Judges praised the performance and capacity scalability of HDS' USP V.

HDS' Universal Storage Platform (USP) V provides immense internal storage capacity, including 332TB of FC or 864TB of SATA drives, and up to 247PB (yes, petabytes) when you include the amount of external storage that can sit behind the USP. Performance is also notable, running more than 4 million IOPS with 106GB/sec aggregate internal bandwidth. As one judge remarks, "[The USP V] sets new levels and standards of performance scalability and capacity scalability in a monolithic storage system." Workload balancing and tuning maintains performance levels as app and user demands change, while virtualization and thin provisioning increase performance and capacity levels. Universal replication is supported across heterogeneous storage systems, and the entire system can be operated through a single management suite. In short, HDS has established one of the most complete and feature-rich packages available for high-end enterprise storage.

Although judges praised the USP, they were quick to point out the complexity that makes this product difficult to use. "They [HDS] really upped the bar on performance," says one judge, "catching up with other tier 1 vendors and surpassing [them]; but still the ease of use is lacking comparatively for all the functionality."

Networking equipment

Xsigo Systems Inc. VP780 I/O Director

From a single interface, users can manage all assets: virtual NICs, virtual HBAs, storage access, SAN boot attributes and quality of service.

Do you hate messing with cables, HBAs and NICs, and wish most of them would just disappear? Does your data center need to direct IO traffic from both a SAN and a LAN? Xsigo Systems Inc.'s VP780 I/O Director delivers converged IO, which means that all servers have access to all LANs and SANs. This is useful in virtualized environments where IO patterns are frequently changing. Some have called this concept the next-generation approach to storage and network connectivity.

Here's how it works: Installation consists of one card in each server, plus a driver (just like installing an HBA). One cable (two for redundancy) connects to the I/O Director. The SAN and LAN attach to the Xsigo VP780 I/O Director, which creates virtual HBAs and NICS that are deployed to the servers by a simple drag-and-drop operation within a browser-based GUI. The GUI presents an up-to-date view of your storage environment, including all the virtual resources, their status and performance. Connectivity can be moved from one server to another while all identities are maintained.

The Xsigo VP780 I/O Director includes 24 server ports (10Gb/sec each), 15 slots for IO Modules, a low-latency nonblocking fabric (780Gb/sec bandwidth), management tools and the XsigOS operating system. Plug-in modules provide SAN and LAN connectivity. You'll need to install a Mellanox Technologies Ltd. ConnectX IB InfiniBand host channel adapter (HCA) in each server. An expansion switch adds 24 server ports and the solution is scalable to hundreds of servers.

The caveats: Several judges praised the Xsigo VP780 I/O Director's innovation, but questioned whether storage managers were ready to embrace, as one put it, "a sea change in the data center." But to reap huge benefits the old ways of doing things sometimes need to be changed; that's why Xsigo won the gold in this category.

Networking equipment

Riverbed Technology Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) 4.0

The newest Steelhead appliance has a data store that's more than 3TB--more than double the largest capacity previously available.

Last year, Riverbed Technology released a major upgrade to its Steelhead wide-area data services appliances and Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) 4.0 OS. The upgrades enhance the security and scalability of data transfers between branch offices and the central data center. Steelhead appliances can now accelerate data transfers that are encrypted using the SSL protocol, save all encryption keys on the Steelhead appliance in the main data center and certify the keys without involving branch offices.

RiOS 4.0 now applies app-specific protocol optimization to Oracle Forms traffic found throughout the Oracle E-Business app suite. DR and backup jobs are speedier because of a new set of traffic-recognition features based on the size/type of the data being transferred. And Riverbed has accelerated encrypted, secure traffic and improved the performance of chatty Web-based apps that hadn't been addressed by WDS products. As one judge succinctly writes: "A very fine upgrade to a very fine product."

Networking equipment

Storwize STN-6000

Storwize's STN-6000 appliance compresses data on its way to the array, substantially reducing required disk capacity.

The Storwize Inc. STN-6000 appliance isn't complicated and does only one thing: Compresses data to reduce storage capacity by up to five times the uncompressed data. Even though the STN-6000 sits in the network, it doesn't degrade performance as data passes from the server to the appliance and then, compressed, onto the storage array. It integrates into the data path easily, without introducing any new single point of failure, and is transparent to users, apps, databases, and storage and network environments.

By reducing the amount of disks needed to store the compressed data, the storage array's electricity consumption and data center footprints are also reduced. Two of our judges thought the $22,000 price tag was a bit high and questioned whether it's more cost-effective to just buy more SATA disks and reduce capacity by implementing better storage management practices. But another judge countered, saying, "It's a good product to extend the life of many older NAS installations."

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