Acopia hypes heterogeneous snapshot

The file virtualization startup is blustering about a demonstration of heterogeneous snapshot technology, but is being coy about releasing a product.

Acopia Networks Inc. said its ARX file-virtualization switch has "demonstrated" the ability to perform snapshots across heterogeneous network attached storage (NAS) systems, but unfortunately it isn't ready to release a product just yet.

Acopia is keeping the details close to its chest but its latest project fits into the company's overall strategy of pulling storage services into the network. Since its ARX switch, an in-band appliance, sits in the write stream, it has access to data other vendors' array-based snapshot software doesn't. Therefore, it can perform operations on the data stream with the correct crash and group consistency required for viable snapshots.

This jargon translates as follows: Crash consistency is defined as maintaining the correct order of writes in order to allow an application to restart properly from snapshot data; group consistency is when any failure during the snapshot process causes an entire collection of snapshots to fail and then initiates a retry mechanism.

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The tests, which Acopia said were a year in development (and took about five months to work even once), involved taking a snapshot on one managed volume that the ARX switch had created across an EMC Corp. Celerra NSX 700 box and a Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) FAS 3050c filer. Acopia's switch also then successfully presented the snapshot to a client.

But when it came down to brass tacks -- i.e., how, exactly, the company had established snapshot consistency within its software and why it was so hard to do -- company officials said the magic word: "proprietary." And there's no product to speak of here -- not even a hint about plans for releasing a product based on this capability.

"This is a gauntlet we're throwing down," said Kirby Wadsworth, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Acopia. "No one else can do this or even come close," he claimed.

Actually, that isn't true. Attune Networks Inc.'s Maestro File Manager appliance has been offering the capability since it first shipped in June 2006. And furthermore, what good is a product differentiator if there is no product?

"We're getting the message out that the capability is here," Wadsworth said. "It may be made available in future products, and we have customers beta testing it now." None of these beta testers, however, were available to speak as of press time.

When pressed for more specifics on a product launch, however, Wadsworth demurred. "We don't have any further detail on a product," he said. "We haven't figured out how much to charge and how exactly to bring it to market -- it's premature to talk about a product at this point."

However, it is not premature in Acopia's view to begin banging the drums of war about yanking intelligence out of proprietary arrays and into the network, a discussion that is gaining some momentum in the industry of late. (See Users want more from tiered storage, Storage magazine, Dec. 2006.)

"They've undone the value proposition from vendors who feature snapshots only on their own boxes as proprietary, lock-in features," said John Toigo, managing principal of Toigo Partners International, who saw the product demonstrated at Acopia's headquarters in Massachusetts recently, but said his lab had not been part of the development or testing of the new snapshot feature.

If and when this product hits the market, Toigo has a suggestion for users looking to save a buck. "A really easy way to deploy high-end, high-capacity storage for files, would be to buy a used NetApp filer and deploy the Acopia switch rather than paying for snapshot licenses."

But as of this week, the question of product availability remains the million dollar one. Toigo, too, said he doesn't know why Acopia isn't bringing a product to market just yet. "The software is there, and it's ready to go," he said. "If they generate enough interest, I'm sure they'll push ahead as quickly as possible."

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