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Best storage products of 2006

Our fifth annual Products of the Year awards recognize the 15 new or enhanced storage products that rose to the top in 2006. The editors of Storage and, along with a panel of users and industry experts, selected these winning products based on their innovation and performance.

Our fifth annual Products of the Year awards honor 15 new or improved storage products that had the most significant impact in 2006.

If, generally speaking, 2005 was the year of new storage product introductions, 2006 might be called "the year of upgrades," as most manufacturers scrambled to refine and improve their storage offerings. But don't think for a moment that 2006 was boring. It's not easy to improve products so that they're more interoperable, behave better in the data center, are easier to manage and, in many instances, do more and cost less than previous versions. For the editors of Storage magazine and, as well as an expert judging panel of analysts, consultants and users, it was a challenge to sort through all of the supremely qualified nominations to select this year's winners.

For many storage managers, the goal is to do more with fewer resources across a broader range of platforms. Thankfully, improved storage technologies and products helped them achieve that goal. Hard drives gained capacity; more capacity meant fitting more storage into fewer devices, which consume less power, cooling and data center space. And even though data continues to grow at an almost uncontrollable rate, new ways to cut down on storing redundant data, such as data deduplication (single-instance storage), helped trim capacity needs. Storage virtualization products, although not new in 2006, have improved, as have remote replication and WAN optimization products that move data effortlessly from remote offices to the main data center for better protection and more centralized management.

What does it take to be a Product of the Year? It starts with our judges--your peers--who gauge each nomination on six key criteria: ease of integration, functionality, innovation, manageability, performance and value. Top-scoring products must then pass another hurdle: practicality and importance. By considering how well a product solves real problems and weighing its long-term impact on the storage industry, the "wow factor" is eliminated, leaving us with the best products in each category. Congratulations to all of this year's winners!

Storage management software

Gold: Abrevity FileData Classifier 2.7
Data classification has been called the brains of information lifecycle management. Without it, any kind of tiered storage strategy isn't very practical. Abrevity Inc., a little-known company in Cupertino, CA, is making considerable strides in this market. Its FileData Classifier software installs on any Windows PC, notebook or server (2000, 2003 or XP), and scans any CIFS or NFS storage system, extracting granular meta data that's used to tag files. It uses a simple drag-and-drop feature, much like an Apple iTunes menu, to drag one or more files to the classification you want, such as Tier-One: Secure. Abrevity's applications truly stand out, according to our judges, when it comes to searching for those files. Abrevity wrote its own database, dubbed SLICEbase, instead of using an existing relational database, to provide significantly faster indexing and search performance. "Classification is built around an incredibly fast, innovative database ... the performance is outstanding," says one judge.

With Abrevity FileData Classifier, you can see a graphic report of a query, such as "Show me all security-related file types older than one year."

Version 2.7 of the product, released in the fall, adds some important new features. Multitier file tracking creates file stubs (or shortcuts that point to master files) for files migrated multiple times across storage tiers and automatically updates links to new file locations. Directory structures and access-control lists are maintained as files move to allow complete, fast file restores. An optional deduplication feature discovers duplicate files, globally or within search queries, and allows manual or automated master file selection with file stubbing.

One judge comments, "It's not whether you can solve a problem with a solution. It's whether you can solve it with a solution that's simple, elegant and affordable." FileData Classifier stands out in this category and is a clear winner for this reason.

Silver: EMC Infoscape
Infoscape is EMC Corp.'s entry in the data classification competition, but the company is targeting a different segment of the market--large enterprises--with its product.

Infoscape is the first new product to be released as the result of EMC's acquisitions of Documentum Inc., Legato Systems Inc. and Smarts Management Arts Inc. (Smarts). Infoscape uses content/meta data analysis and repository management functions from Documentum, discovery features from Smarts and data movement technology from Legato. All of those moving parts mesh with new capabilities that let users classify data based on importance, move it to a storage tier according to predetermined policies and manage its retention for compliance.

EMC Infoscape can classify data based on its importance, move it to the appropriate tier of storage according to predetermined policies and manage its retention for compliance purposes.

Infoscape is pricey: $125,000 for the first 10TB of data to be classified and $9,000 per terabyte after that. And the product is limited to what it can classify today--only unstructured data, such as Word and PowerPoint files, accessible via CIFS or on EMC's Celerra NAS devices. For Infoscape to gain a wide user base, EMC will need to lower its hefty price. One judge comments: "If the fine [for not finding data] is $100,000, but it costs $200,000 to fix the problem, I'll live with the fine."

Bronze: Onaro SANscreen Replication Assurance
A previous winner, Onaro Inc. continues to build software that genuinely solves users' problems. SANscreen Replication Assurance focuses on one thing, and does it extremely well. It provides a global inventory of all replication devices, the type of replication between devices and whether replication tasks are performed according to service-level agreements. If a replication job is disrupted, SAN- screen Replication Assurance provides root-cause analysis and reports actions to address the issue.

Onaro's SANscreen Replication Assurance can find out which devices are replicating to which arrays and how those jobs are performing.

It's the first product of its kind, according to our judges, who have faith in its ability to perform as advertised given the company's previous success. With disaster recovery a standard requisite for large data centers, this product adds some quality assurance to this vital process--assurance that's been missing until now.

Backup hardware

Gold: IBM System Storage TS1120 tape drive model E05
Data breaches played prominently in 2006's headlines, and IBM Corp. has led the charge in responding to this problem by making data security as much a part of the tape process as compression. Its E05 model tape drive includes 256-bit AES encryption, which resides on an application-specific integrated circuit in the drive. IBM's encryption-key management system is especially advanced, and it's being offered with the system free of charge.

The TS1120 Model E05 makes security as much a part of the tape process as compression, adding hardware-based encryption.

The key management repository, a Java app running on commodity hardware, uses public and private keys; the private key is embedded within the tape cartridge and public keys are available to everyone. If the key management system were to use only the private key, the key would have to be transported the first time users send a tape to a trusted partner, which some experts say could compromise security.

Encryption will ship standard with all new TS1120 drives (starting at $35,000); the encryption option can be added to existing TS1120 drives for $5,000 per drive. This product should appeal to many IBM mainframe shops. "It solves a big mainframe encryption tape problem," says one of our judges. "IBM is one of the first major vendors to embed these capabilities in the drives themselves--you have to give them credit for that."

Silver: Sepaton S2100-ES2 Virtual Tape Appliance
As disk-to-disk backup grows more popular, disk targets are getting smarter. This hardware-based standout is the second version of Sepaton Inc.'s disk-only virtual tape library (VTL). The S2100-ES2 added online replication and rode the wave of data deduplication popularity with the release of Sepaton's DeltaStor software. An encryption option is also available via Sepaton's partnership with NeoScale Systems.

Sepaton's data deduplication approach is interesting. Most dedupe players do reverse referencing, which looks at a new block, compares it to data in the backup repository, and either keeps it or doesn't depending on whether it matches. But forward referencing, which is done only by Sepaton, saves the most recent blocks and then compares them to older data, a process Sepaton says improves restore times because the most recent backup version is kept the freshest.

Sepaton's S2100-ES2 shows how disk backup targets are getting smarter.

Any firm offering a VTL with limited functionality could cease to exist within a few years. To ensure its survival, Sepaton has partnered with nearly every backup vendor and added new features. By making its VTL easier to manage and an essential part of the disk-to-disk backup process, Sepaton and its customers are ahead of the game.

Bronze: Data Domain DDX Array Series
Data Domain Inc. is a perennial medal winner in this category, and the data deduplication pioneer hasn't been standing still--and neither have storage growth and consolidation trends. This fall, the company shipped the mammoth DDX deduplicating array which, fully configured, can pack in 15 petabytes (PB). The new DD560 controller mitigates a common deduplication bugaboo: poor performance. A maximum 16-controller configuration has been benchmarked at up to 6.4TB/hour throughput. The DD560g gateway controller offers the same throughput and capacity supporting external array storage.

The DDX scales from four to 16 controllers, and can support the previous generation of DD400 series and DD500 series controllers. Whatever the configuration, the DDX product can complement all pre-existing Data Domain appliances, acting as a hub for recovery images from up to 320 remote locations. The box also includes the vendor's Data Invulnerability Architecture, which continuously and automatically verifies, detects and protects against data recoverability issues during the initial storage of backup data and throughout its life cycle.

Data Domain's new DD560 controller mitigates a common deduplication bugaboo: poor performance.

As power concerns rise along with storage sprawl, Data Domain has made an effort to produce a "green" product that uses as little as 1.1 watts/TB of power. Several array configurations are also available for fewer than 35 cents/GB, according to the company. Our judges were nearly unanimous in their praise of the DDX, awarding it high scores across the board. "With inline deduplication and heterogeneous support, the economics of this solution are very hard to beat," they gush.

Backup and disaster recovery software

Gold: Signiant Mobilize for Remote Data Protection
Safeguarding remote data has long been a tough nut to crack for data center admins. Signiant Inc.'s Mobilize for Remote Data Protection (RDP) collects data from remote offices and deposits it at a central site where it can be protected.

RDP is based on Signiant's existing Mobilize technology, which has been OEM'd by Adaptec Inc., EMC Corp. and Pillar Data Systems. A Mobilize Agent runs on a server at each remote location with the entire configuration managed centrally on a Linux or Windows server. One key to RDP's flexibility is its support of a variety of OSes, and its interoperability with nearly any kind of NAS or SAN storage.

RDP collects remote data and, using data reduction and WAN optimization techniques, ships the new and changed information to the central site where it can be backed up, replicated or copied using standard data protection tools. What's backed up to the central site--and how often--is determined by user-defined policies.

Signiant's Mobilize for Remote Data Protection effortlessly collects data from remote offices and deposits it at a central site where it can be properly protected.

RDP takes a two-pronged approach to relieving restore woes. First, it leaves the remote files where they are so they're available to remote users. And when a file does have to be restored from the central store, because it was stored in its native format, it's a simple drag-and-drop process using Windows tools.

Scalability is also a strong point. RDP's basic package can handle five to 30 remote locations, while an Enterprise Edition scales to as many as 2,000 remote sites.

Signiant says that in most cases existing bandwidth will suffice to ship data to the central data center. In-flight data is compressed and encrypted. Further security is provided through authentication and access controls, and VPN support.

Signiant Mobilize for RDP garnered the gold because it provides an effective, simple solution to a problem that plagues firms large and small. Our experts particularly like Mobilize for RDP's painless and nondisruptive implementation. One judge calls it "affordable business continuity with the benefit of content distribution."

Silver: UltraBac Software UBDR Gold Version 3.0
The challenge of getting your organization up and running in the face of a crippling outage is no small matter. UBDR Gold Version 3.0 from UltraBac Software can ease some of that pain. It works alongside your backup app for an additional level of protection--its Locked File Backup Agent ensures that even opened files are backed up.

UltraBac Software's UBDR Gold is focused on the critical job of bringing a downed server back to life quickly. It can back up images of Windows servers and then do a full bare-metal restore in short order.

While not a one-trick pony, UBDR Gold is focused on the critical job of bringing a downed server back to life quickly. It can back up images of Windows servers and do a full bare-metal restore in fewer than 15 minutes, claims the company. UBDR can restore to different gear and even systems with different processors, drives and disk controllers. In previous versions, physical server-to-virtual server restores were supported; Version 3.0 adds the ability to restore from virtual to virtual servers. UBDR works with VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

UBDR Gold can integrate with UltraBac's backup software and IBM Corp.'s Tivoli Storage Manager. Selling for $995 per server, Version 3.0 is priced comparable to similar products that may offer fewer restore options. Our judges were impressed with its innovative approach to bare-metal backup and restore. "Excellent DR capabilities," notes one judge, who particularly liked its ability to "restore to dissimilar hardware."

Bronze: Symantec Backup Exec 11d
Given its pedigree and longevity, it's not surprising how fully featured Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec is, and the long list of enhancements to the latest version continues to expand the product's functionality.

Backup Exec provides updated encryption features that let administrators select only the data that needs to be encrypted.

The latest edition has CDP agents for Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server; users can recover specific mailboxes or messages using the Exchange Server agent. Symantec says the CDP capabilities can eliminate traditional daily backups for these apps.

Backup Exec has become more app-aware with enhanced agents for a range of popular apps. Updated encryption features let admins select only the data that needs to be encrypted. A new reporting engine lets backup managers create custom reports for individual or groups of backup servers. Backup Exec can now compare its medal with the one its sibling app, NetBackup, won in 2002.

Disk and disk subsystems

ONStor's Pantera Series Clustered NAS redefines scalability with up to 40PB of storage and active-active n-way clustering.

Gold: ONStor Pantera Series Clustered NAS
The Pantera clustered NAS system from ONStor Inc. has a trifecta of data protection benefits that's hard to beat: scalability, performance and interoperability. In sum, it's one of the most versatile enterprise NAS products we've seen.

Scalability is particularly crucial in storage, and the Pantera scales in two important dimensions. If it's capacity you need, Pantera supports up to 40PB using 146GB 15,000 rpm SAS hard drives for performance-sensitive applications or 500GB SATA drives for noncritical, cost-effective tasks. SAS and SATA drives are supported simultaneously, allowing for tiered storage in the same chassis. Each Pantera model also touts four Gigabit Ethernet ports and scales for performance through active-active n-way clustering; up to eight 300MB/sec filers can be combined to yield a total throughput of 2.4GB/sec (depending on selected models). As one judge puts it: "Nicely done scalability for a very reasonable pay-as-you grow approach."

The Pantera can configure storage as a single pool for optimum utilization, which means no more hunting for lost storage or migrating data to accommodate a storage upgrade. Advanced data protection features, such as the ability to perform up to 48 snapshots per file system, provide point-in-time copies. However, remote replication isn't standard and optional software will be needed to replicate data between remote Pantera systems.

Judges debated the Pantera's price--some call it reasonable, while others suggest the system was relatively expensive per gigabyte. Still, a solid suite of features and good execution makes ONStor's Pantera family a solid winner.

Silver: Seagate Cheetah 15K.5 300GB enterprise hard drive
It's not news that hard drives, perhaps more than any other storage component, profoundly affect storage performance and reliability. The Cheetah 15K.5 300GB hard drive from Seagate Technology LLC earned a silver in the disk subsystems category for its impressive marriage of capacity and performance.

Cheetah drives are available in a 3.5-inch form factor at 73GB, 146GB and 300GB capacities, though it's the move to 300GB that's truly interesting. The key to this enhanced capacity is perpendicular recording technology, which magnetizes through the disk media (perpendicular to the disk) rather than along the disk plane (longitudinally). This effectively increases the recording areal density and allows for more storage capacity. At the same time, more bits per inch are flying under the heads, so data rates are increased for added performance. Cheetah drives are available for several interfaces, including Ultra320 SCSI, 3Gb/sec SAS and 4Gb/sec Fibre Channel.

Seagate's Cheetah 15K.5 uses perpendicular recording, which improves storage capacity and sequential performance.

Several judges call the drive technology "innovative." One skeptical judge calls the Cheetah "just another disk drive" that will inevitably be displaced by bigger and better models, but that judge missed the point: The Cheetah drive will influence the entire storage industry, while perpendicular data recording pushes drive capacities into the terabyte range.

Bronze: BlueArc Titan 2200 Storage System
BlueArc Corp.'s Titan 2200 NAS storage system offers ample storage with impressive levels of throughput and connectivity. But it was the modularity of BlueArc's Titan 2000 family that attracted our attention.

The Titan 2200 scales to 512TB of capacity. Simultaneous support for SATA drives up to 400GB, Fibre Channel drives up to 300GB and WORM drives enable tiered storage within the same system. BlueArc also paid a lot of attention to performance, rating the Titan 2200 at up to 10Gb/sec throughput. It can be active-active clustered for high availability. Virtualization is an essential feature, allowing virtual volumes that manage data capacity and size dynamically as allocation needs change. Asynchronous or synchronous replication features are also available. One judge proclaims it "best-in-class performer." Still, it's important to note that key features, including NFS, CIFS, iSCSI, virtual servers, data migration, active-active clustering and clustered name space (among others), are considered optional.

BlueArc's Titan 2000 family features modularity to reduce the expense and disruption of future system upgrades.

BlueArc's adoption of a modular architecture allows the Titan to be configured with Network Interface Modules, File System Modules and Storage Interface Modules. Each module can be replaced or upgraded easily, helping to avoid the expense and disruption normally associated with forklift upgrades.

Networking equipment

Brocade's SilkWorm 48000 Director scales nondisruptively from 32 to as many as 384 concurrently active 4Gb/sec full-duplex ports in a single domain.

Gold: Brocade SilkWorm 48000 Director
There are two not necessarily complementary trends tugging at the data center: High-volume transaction processing apps such as ERP and data warehousing are becoming the lifeblood of modern corporations, and the storage fabrics that support those apps are becoming more complex. Complexity plus speed can often add up to disaster. Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s SilkWorm 48000 Director packs a bunch of technologies specifically designed to manage increased SAN complexity, and to deliver the performance and resiliency critical apps need.

The SilkWorm 48000 Director is a powerful, flexible switch that scales nondisruptively from 32 to as many as 384 concurrently active 4Gb/sec full-duplex ports in a single domain. It supports Fibre Channel routing, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) and iSCSI, and is the traffic-routing cop for fabrics capable of supporting thousands of hosts and storage devices. The director supports ultra high-availability requirements with redundant, hot-pluggable components, no single points of failure and nondisruptive software upgrades. Further adding to the SAN's resiliency, the SilkWorm 48000 Director's ports can be dedicated to specific applications with N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV), which supports multiple logical partitions on servers.

The SilkWorm 48000 can integrate with heterogeneous environments, including IBM mainframes and open platforms with multiple OSes such as Windows, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and i5/OS. These capabilities make it ideal for managing enterprise storage apps such as backup, remote mirroring and high-availability clustering. Most of our judges agree with one panelist who says the Brocade SilkWorm 48000 Director "covers all the bases eloquently."

Silver: QLogic SANbox 9000
For companies that don't need a $250,000 director switch, QLogic Corp.'s SANbox 9000 switch, with a starting price of less than $51,000, is designed exclusively for open-systems environments. It can scale to 128 ports in a single 4u chassis, and accommodate any mix of 4Gb/sec or 10Gb/sec Fibre Channel I/O blades. In the opinion of our judges, the QLogic SANbox 9000 brings director-switch class features to data centers that previously didn't have the budget for such technology.

The SANbox 9000 brings director-switch class features to data centers that previously didn't have the budget for such technology.

Depending on how the SANbox 9000 is configured, it can be deployed in local, campus and remote core/edge topologies. The SANbox 9000 supports up to 256 ports in a dual-chassis configuration. For high availability, it features redundant, hot-swap I/O, CPU, power supply and fan blades. For comprehensive fabric management, the SANbox 9000 includes the easy-to-use Enterprise Fabric Suite 2007 for setting up, monitoring, tuning, troubleshooting and servicing.

In sum, "If you want to start small and grow quickly, the [SANbox] 9000 is a good place to start," says one judge.

Bronze: Riverbed Steelhead Appliances
Branch-office workers, using main data center-hosted apps, generate a ton of unique data that needs to be stored at company headquarters. However, most office apps were designed for a local LAN and, as such, run miserably over a WAN because of bandwidth limitations.

Riverbed's Steelhead appliances automatically map ports to applications for more visibility into the performance of apps across the WAN.

Riverbed Technology Inc. Steelhead appliances, along with their upgraded Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) 3.0 operating system, do a lot of network magic to eliminate or drastically reduce network issues. Priority queuing and guaranteed minimum/maximum bandwidths ensure that traffic such as VoIP and streaming media gets the prioritization and protection it needs. Steelhead appliances can now automatically map ports to applications for more visibility into the performance of applications across the WAN. In addition, the appliances can detect each other and begin optimizing traffic without preconfiguring proxies or tunnels. Perhaps most importantly, Steelhead appliances support more network protocols than any other WAN optimizing devices. The Steelhead appliances "level the playing field for remotes," one judged enthusiastically declares.

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