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Best storage products of 2005

Our fourth annual Products of the Year awards spotlight the 15 new or enhanced storage products that stood out from the rest in 2005. The editors of Storage and, along with a panel of users and industry experts, selected these winning products based on their innovation and performance, among other criteria.

With a bumper crop of outstanding new products in 2005, our fourth annual Products of the Year awards honor the 15 new or enhanced storage products that stood out from the rest.

IT WAS A STELLAR YEAR FOR STORAGE PRODUCTS. As such, it was a very difficult year for the editors of Storage magazine and, and a panel of judges made up of users and analysts, to choose this year's Products of the Year winners. What impressed us the most was the degree of innovation exhibited by new products and the substantial upgrades to existing ones. When you look at a wide range of products and try to narrow down the winners, a few themes emerge. Believe it or not, products are getting easier to connect, expand, use and manage. And as with most technical gear today, a dollar buys more than it did last year.

But our awards aren't based solely on innovation or, as we like to say, the "way cool" factor. A product can possess a fair share of the latest bells and whistles, but it won't win an award if it doesn't solve real-world problems, make a storage manager's life easier and more efficient, or make a company's data more secure and accessible.

What makes these awards fun to judge is that winning products come from all corners of the storage industry: from well-established companies, startups barely out of stealth mode and from companies located outside the U.S. It's a global economy and no one company has a lock on new ideas. For the record, our awards are based on the following criteria:

  • Ease of integration into existing environments
  • Functionality
  • Innovation
  • Manageability
  • Performance
  • Value
Congratulations to all the winners.

Backup and Disaster Recovery Software

Gold: Avamar
Axion Version 3.0

Axion Version 3.0 radically changes the way backups are done by cutting down backup sizes and bandwidth requirements.

AXION VERSION 3.0, Avamar Technologies Inc.'s disk-based backup application, is elegantly simple in theory: Back up less data. One judge hailed Axion Version 3.0 as "the most innovative product I've seen for backup and restore."

Axion creates point-in-time copies of data, but shrinks the amount of data it writes to disk by eliminating duplicates and writing only changes to already backed-up files. The underlying key technology is commonality factoring, which parses files and breaks them into chunks that can be examined individually for changes.

Version 3.0 runs on standard Intel servers, and Axion appliances can be clustered to provide failover capabilities. Version 3.0 adds new client support, including 64-bit Linux and Solaris 10, and support for Microsoft Corp.'s Volume Shadow Copy Service. Perhaps the most notable enhancement in Version 3.0 is the ability to expand Axion systems non-disruptively by adding nodes, rather than replacing them to upgrade capacity.

But it must be noted that implementing Axion requires not only a revamping of an organization's backup procedures, but a rethinking of the concept of backup. In other words, once you start down the Axion backup path, it's difficult technically to go back to a standard backup product. That said, Axion's rewards are difficult to deny, and Avamar deserves recognition for offering a new way to improve a flawed process.

Silver: XOsoft
Assured Recovery

Assured Recovery handles an expensive and time-consuming storage administration chore--testing a DR plan.

XOSOFT NABBED the top spot in this category in last year's awards, and solidifies its position as one of the top backup and recovery software vendors with a return visit to our honor roll. XOsoft's Assured Recovery builds on the company's winner from last year, its WANsyncHA remote replication application, with a new tool that monitors the health of a DR system.

Assured Recovery conducts behind-the-scenes DR testing to ensure that replica systems can come online as planned and lets a storage manager know if the application at the backup site runs properly. Because it doesn't require any server reboots or application stops and starts, it's not disruptive to production environments. Assured Recovery runs on top of XOsoft's WANsync or WANsyncHA, and is available for Exchange, Oracle and SQL Server.

The most commonly cited reasons for not conducting extensive DR testing are excessive cost and not enough time. With Assured Recovery, XOsoft endeavors to alleviate both of those burdens.

Bronze: FalconStor Software
FalconStor VirtualTape Library Version 3.1

FalconStor's latest revision of its VTL software builds on the widely used disk-based backup application.

FALCONSTOR SOFTWARE INC.'S latest revision of its popular virtual tape library (VTL) software builds on a widely implemented disk-based backup product. FalconStor garnered a silver award for its IPStor 4.0 DR application in this category two years ago. This year, the company captures a bronze for the latest incarnation of its popular FalconStor VirtualTape Library.

With ever-growing data stores, shrinking backup windows and the time-consuming process of restoring from tape, many shops are turning to disk for relief. Making a disk subsystem look like a tape library is a popular backup option. With VirtualTape Library, FalconStor integrates with and emulates dozens of tape libraries from leading vendors. VirtualTape Library also emulates nearly all popular drive types, including LTO-1, -2 and -3; DLT and SuperDLT; and 984x and 994x. It supports all major backup apps.

FalconStor's 3.1 version has widened its support by including IBM's 3583 and 3580 drives. Also new is a tape-caching feature that provides more flexibility for moving backed-up data to tape, allowing users to define policies for migrating disk-based backups to tape that maintain bar-code integrity. Policies can also tell VirtualTape Library how to re-allocate disk space when data is moved to tape.

Last summer, FalconStor added the ability to encrypt its VTL tapes and export the encrypted data to physical tapes. Users can also add FalconStor's continuous data protection option to the VTL app. FalconStor's VirtualTape Library has two versions, standard and enterprise, distinguished by their scaling limitations. The bottom line: FalconStor VirtualTape Library is a good VTL product that has gotten better.

Backup Hardware

Gold: Sun L1400M Tape Library

Sun's L1400M can use four different tape formats in a single box.

AS ONE OF OUR judges put it, it may be "somewhat contrarian" to give the gold to a tape library in 2006, but Sun Microsystems Inc.'s L1400M solves a top problem in tape: the ability to use four different tape formats within a single library, and it's a solution that's been a long time coming. "With innovations in disk systems, if tape wants to be relevant for long-term archiving in the future, it needs to be format agnostic," said the judge, adding that "it's something tape customers have wanted for years."

Sun's L1400M is based on StorageTek's L700e library, which it acquired last June. The L1400M is compatible with fast-access T9840, high-capacity T9940 or midrange LTO/ SDLT tape drive formats. The L1400M version adds support for more operating system platforms, including Novell and Linux, and is shipped with a Web-based management tool--an optional upgrade with the equivalent StorageTek product.

The single-frame library scales from 200 to 678 slots (1,344 slots if you go with a dual-frame architecture) and has a list price of $69,000, which includes Fibre Channel (FC) connectivity, remote management, a 20-slot cartridge access port, all physical capacity installed and access to 200 cartridge slots. Capacity is added at roughly $3,000 per 100-slot increment. Partitioning is an optional feature and lists at $8,000. As one judge put it, "finally, somebody did the right thing for their customers."

Silver: Data Domain DD460

The DD460 provides compression for disk-based backup and will work with all leading backup applications.

DATA DOMAIN INC.'S DD460 is the first major upgrade of a previous winner, the Data Domain DD200 Recovery Appliance, which won gold in this category for the 2003 Products of the Year awards. At the time, a judge asked if the 20:1 compression ratio and 23TB capacity was a typo. The DD460 would probably make that judge think he was dreaming--the new box boasts not only performance improvements, but now packs a whopping 83TB of usable capacity into a single appliance.

The capacity allows users to retain up to three months' of backup data onsite, where it's easily accessible. Improvements in throughput, now topping out at 290GB per hour--comparable to LT0-3 performance--enables users to back up massive amounts of data to disk under tight time constraints.

The DD460 also introduced what Data Domain calls the Data Invulnerability Architecture, which verifies the recoverability of data at backup time--a claim that no other enterprise disk array or file system can make. Data is continuously re-verified so backup data can be restored quickly and reliably.

All products in Data Domain's DD400 Enterprise Series work with nearly any standard backup software; unlike many other storage players we could name, Data Domain doesn't want to sell you hardware so it can sell you proprietary software.

Ultimately, the best news for users is that the product costs just $75,000 (vs. the $58,000 price tag of the 23TB version), bringing the cost of backup to disk well below the $1/GB barrier. "This is one of the only truly innovative products in the bunch," said one of our judges.

Bronze: Quantum PX500
Series Tape Libraries

Quantum's PX500 Series tape library uses infrared connections that provide easy, wireless scalability.

TO ADD CAPACITY to a tape library, you often have to put together a new frame. With Quantum Corp.'s PX500 Series tape libraries, all that's required to add capacity is to slide new boxes in. No cabling is needed because the new PX Series tape libraries use infrared connections between modules, very similar to the signal a television remote control emits. Boxes from each of the three classes of PX500s libraries can be stacked with the others, and the entire system will appear to management software as one unit. No other tape library vendor is making frames so easy to stack.

Put another way, the PX500 Series "is attractive because you can start really small and get really, really big," said one judge. "You won't need a crane to add things in."

The PX502, which is the smallest of the three tape libraries, is a 4U box with one or two drives. It holds either 32 DLT or 38 LTO tape cartridges, and can mix media. Next up in size is the PX506, which can hold 88 DLT or 100 LTO cartridges. The PX510 goes up to 40U, and can hold 22 drives and 220 cartridges.

Disk and Disk Subsystems

Gold: Xiotech Magnitude 3D 3000e

Judges called the 3000e a "storage system with a good suite of features and capabilities."

XIOTECH CORP.'S MAGNITUDE 3D 3000e wasn't the flashiest, highest performing, most feature-laden or least-expensive product in this category. But what the 3000e lacks in overall superlatives, it makes up for by being well-rounded, dependable and cost-effective. Taken together, these admirable traits lifted the stout-hearted 3000e to this year's top spot.

The 3000e isn't a low-end commodity box. It's an entry-level system that supports multiple controllers that are geographically separated by FC distances. And like all Magnitude 3Ds, the 3000e delivers transparent failover and failback within controllers and across clusters so local outages don't prevent access to data and applications. Coupled with Xiotech's DataScale Geo-Replication software, storage volumes can be replicated to remote Magnitude 3D clusters in a matter of minutes. The 3000e can host three different kinds of disk drives: enterprise FC, low-cost FC or serial ATA (SATA) for any flavor of storage tiering. Drives, drive bays and controllers can be added non-disruptively.

The 3000e is limited to four host-side FC ports and 19.2TB of capacity using SATA disks. But it's not much of a limitation, given that the 3000e is but one model in the 3000 family. Users who outgrow the 3000e can non-disruptively upgrade to the higher performance 3000s, with up to eight host-side FC ports and 76.8TB of capacity, or the top-of-the-line 3000x, which offers better drive failure isolation and performance.

Still, the 3000e probably wouldn't be such a hit in the departmental workgroup if it wasn't for usability features that have earned Xiotech a loyal following. The 3000e adheres to Xiotech's strict rule of no server-side code, even to support cluster failover and failback. No wonder judges said the 3000e "is very popular in midsized enterprises."

Silver: Isilon Systems
Isilon IQ

Easy scaling of capacity and performance at a reasonable price are hallmarks of Isilon IQ.

UNLIKE A LOT OF other arrays on the market, Isilon Systems Inc.'s Isilon IQ wasn't designed as storage for an average I/O-intensive database application. Coming off a stint at streaming-media pioneer Real Networks, the architects for Isilon IQ set out to make a storage system designed to house large amounts of sequential unstructured data and serve it up as fast as the network will carry it. The judges were unequivocal in their praise for the system's performance, ease of scalability and, best of all, relatively low price per-terabyte.

Need to move a big video file from here to there? Isilon IQ can handle that job without breaking a sweat. The company has clocked a system with an impressive 5GB/sec aggregate throughput and a single file system of up to 250TB. That performance comes from many things: an N-way clustered architecture that adds processing power along with capacity; the OneFS distributed file system that stripes files and meta data across nodes; the low-latency InfiniBand interconnect between nodes; and--last but not least--a lot of cache.

Better still is the ease with which you can apply that performance and scalability to your environment. As a NAS system supporting standard NFS and CIFS protocols, Isilon IQ inherently provides file sharing and requires no host-side software or hardware beyond a standard Ethernet connection. The OneFS file system also allows easy scalability by automatically recognizing new nodes as they're added and restriping the data accordingly. For high performance and easy expandability, Isilon IQ delivers in spades.

Bronze: Compellent Technologies
Storage Center 3.3

Storage Center's feature set is made possible by its underlying Dynamic Block Architecture.

IF IT'S HIGH-END FEATURES and flexibility you want, look no further than Compellent Technologies' Storage Center 3.3. Despite being a relative newcomer to the midrange array scene, judges were impressed by the number of ways it can be configured, and its long list of standard and add-on applications.

Storage Center 3.3 is drive and host-interface agnostic. You can outfit the array with FC or SATA disks, and with either FC or iSCSI host connectivity, within the same box if you so choose. It supports N-way clustered controllers (but only two today) and capacity scales from 1TB to 100TB.

Mixed drive and host-interface types work well with Storage Center 3.3's optional Data Progression feature, a policy-based migration facility that moves data at the block level to optimize performance or archive older data to a more appropriate tier. "This is the first block storage array that automates ILM [information lifecycle management] and moves data between tiers based on user policies," wrote a judge.

Other notable features include Dynamic Capacity--a kind of thin provisioning; Data Instant Replay, a snapshotting capability; boot-from-SAN support; online volume expansion; and RAID-level migration. The optional Remote Instant Replay is a remote snapshot replication feature.

Networking Equipment

Gold: McData Intrepid
10000 (i10K) Director

The i10K offers extensive configuration flexibility, such as the ability to re-allocate buffer credits between ports.

AS THE DRIVE to secure and better support server and storage applications grows, FC directors have become more than big, fast packet-routing boxes. New technologies such as server virtualization and blade servers, along with the growing economic necessity to establish and support tiers of storage, have dramatically increased the roles of directors within the storage fabric.

McData Corp.'s Intrepid 10000 (i10K) Director sets a new standard with the flexibility it brings to storage network design. With its 256 non-blocking ports, superior distance capabilities, native 10Gb/sec inter-switch links and FlexPars partitioning technology, the i10K can securely connect fabrics and dynamically move resources to meet rapidly changing storage and application requirements.

The i10K's FlexPars provide secure partitioning from the server to the array. SAN designers can divide the i10K into four partitions, which act as separate, independent directors. The separation includes the data, control and management of the switch. And unlike other directors that offer virtual partitioning, only the i10K can run independent instances of firmware on each partition, eliminating single points of failure to secure data. FlexPars can also consolidate SAN islands, but keep their benefits, such as lessening the impact and number of application disruptions.

With FlexPars, companies can avoid having to overprovision to meet peak application demands. The ability to dynamically allocate switch resources is also key to establishing and supporting tiered storage, which requires a switch that can quickly adapt to changing technology and performance requirements.

Silver: Brocade Communications Systems
Tapestry Data Migration Manager

Tapestry DMM is a SAN-based device that inserts itself into the data path only when a migration needs to occur.

MOVING DATA from point A to point B, whether to another subsystem or to different storage tiers, is a big part of a storage administrator's job. Data migrations over SANs and WANs require oodles of planning, often take critical systems offline and need extensive testing. Brocade's Tapestry Data Migration Manager (DMM) is a simple, but powerful, tool for high-performance data migration in heterogeneous storage environments.

Tapestry DMM works with arrays from major vendors and reduces the need for expensive OS-specific server software such as volume managers and replication tools. With migration rates of up to 1TB/hour, Tapestry DMM shortens migration windows and application downtime. Because Tapestry DMM is SAN-based, it's less disruptive than a server-based product. By reducing the complexity of moving data, and cutting the time and cost to do it, Tapestry DMM is, as one judge put it, "both cutting-edge and useful."

Bronze: Hewlett-Packard
StorageWorks Modular Smart Array
(MSA) 1000 Small Business SAN Kit

The MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit can take you from zero to full-featured SAN in just minutes.

HEWLETT-PACKARD (HP) CO. says its StorageWorks MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit is "the simplest SAN on the planet." And there's no hyperbole in that advertising slogan--it's easy to buy, install, manage and upgrade. Geared to small businesses or enterprise remote offices, this SAN-in-a-box is an FC storage system that consists of an HP 2Gb FC disk array, two QLogic SANblade HBAs, an 8-port FC QLogic SANbox switch and Microsoft SAN management software. Once the components are connected (color-coordinated cables ease the assembly and a software wizard guides the user through the setup), HP claims it takes only 25 mouse clicks to get the $9,999 (street price) SAN up and running "in a matter of minutes."

Don't get the impression that StorageWorks MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit isn't a sophisticated and expandable SAN. It can scale to 12.6TB using 42 300GB disks in a 10U rack. All configuration, management and partitioning software comes standard at no extra charge. The array supports hot-plug drives, controllers, fans and power supplies. Its RAID Advanced Data Guarding (ADG) provides a much greater level of fault tolerance than RAID 5, allowing two simultaneous drive failures without downtime or data loss. StorageWorks MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit supports Windows 2000/2003 32-bit and Linux 32-bit operating systems. It's nice to see three companies get together to produce a powerful, yet easy to use, SAN.

Storage Management

Gold: Kazeon Systems Information Server IS1200

Kazeon's IS1200 can be clustered to manage data classification and migration for hundreds of millions of files.

A TIERED STORAGE environment is impossible to achieve without a data classification engine that helps companies to better understand and recover their data. A clear gold winner in its field, Kazeon Systems Inc.'s Information Server IS1200 was the first product out of the gate to catalog and index files. It also provides key services such as searching, resource reporting, file tagging and data movement.

One IS1200 appliance can manage millions of files; appliance clusters can handle hundreds of millions of Unix and Windows files. "IS1200 is an incredibly useful product that solves real issues with compliance," noted one judge.

The IS1200 crawls through both NFS and CIFS shares and collects meta data on the files. Once this process is complete, a file can be automatically assigned to a specific storage tier based on user-created policies. Users can receive hourly, daily, weekly or monthly classification reports. Meta data collection happens on many different levels. Crawls can produce basic classifications based on simple file meta data, such as file type, modification time, author and revision number for Microsoft Office files. Deeper classification is possible using Kazeon's extraction and assignment rules that create additional meta data tags.

It's a hands-down winner with legal firms that must respond to discovery requests in weeks or even days. With electronic documents accounting for 80% of all corporate information, the cost of legal discovery can be staggering. For that reason alone, electronic discovery has become essential for meeting litigation deadlines cost-effectively. Kazeon Information Server IS1200 will process native files, extract relevant content, and copy or move documents to secure storage systems to aid the discovery process.

The IS1200 is a 1U out-of-band appliance with dual Xeon processors, 2GB of RAM and dual Gigabit Ethernet NICs. It doesn't require agents. The Kazeon software offers a command-line interface, but a Java client is also available. Pricing for the IS1200 starts at $50,000.

Silver: MonoSphere
Storage Horizon

Storage Horizon makes short shrift of capacity planning and helps avoid the expense of overprovisioning.

WE LIKE MONOSPHERE INC.'S Storage Horizon because it addresses a very real pain point for storage administrators: managing capacity. "This is an excellent management tool," said one judge.

The traditional way of avoiding out-of-capacity situations is to overprovision and purchase storage in advance of when it's actually needed. But that method is inefficient and expensive. Storage Horizon can lower costs by allowing users to get more out of their existing storage, while predicting future requirements without falling into the trap of overprovisioning.

For example, for enterprises with a $10 million storage budget, a 30% utilization increase saves $3 million. By accurately predicting demand, companies can make more timely purchases and take advantage of declining hardware costs. A purchase deferral of two quarters translates into a built-in discount of 12% to 18%, say experts.

Storage Horizon scored high marks for its technical prowess and cost-saving features. "Few capacity-planning tools are agentless," said a judge. Furthermore, the ability to create advanced queries, detailed forecasting, dashboard and e-mail notification, heterogeneous device support and management reporting all contribute to making MonoSphere's Storage Horizon a useful tool that will make the job of any storage manager a lot easier and more productive.

Bronze: Bycast

Bycast's fixed-content storage system spans multiple storage systems and makes sharing data easy.

BYCAST INC.'S StorageGrid software caught the eye of our judges for its use of commodity hardware coupled with innovative software for fixed content management across geographically dispersed sites. "This looks to be a great product for HIPAA compliance," noted one judge. The little-known Vancouver, BC-based company has deals with Hewlett-Packard and IBM, which resell StorageGrid.

StorageGrid presents the storage system, which can be any third-party hardware, as a network-mounted virtual file system. Data is stored in and retrieved from the StorageGrid via CIFS (Windows), NFS (Unix/Linux), or Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM), an application layer network protocol for the transmission of medical images. Any type of fixed content such as diagnostic images (MRI or CAT scans), or audio and video files can be stored in the system. The software then applies tiered storage rules to automate the process of storing data on the most cost-efficient storage platform. At this time, Bycast addresses only the healthcare market, but it expects to release additional products for other sectors this year.

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