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Buzz builds around data reduction for primary storage

Analysts predict that in-band compression offerings from StoreWiz, newly updated this week, are the first step toward a new wave of primary storage deduplication products.

Startup StoreWiz Inc. announced that it has brushed up the performance of its in-band data compression boxes with new processors and a more efficient algorithm, and is releasing two new models based on the updates. Meanwhile, the company remains alone in the market with data reduction products for primary storage, but analysts say that's about to change.

The StoreWiz appliances, which now include the STN-6300 and STN-6500 models, sit in the network between application servers and network attached storage (NAS) devices. As data is sent over the wire, the appliance compresses it packet by packet before sending it to the storage device. The company claims an average compression ratio of 5-to-1 on CIFS and NFS data streams.

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The product also does not compromise, and can actually improve, network performance, according to Tzahi Shahak, director of product management at StoreWiz. "The product sends only the requested data," he said, rather than having to pull an entire file across the wire, compress or decompress it, and then sends it, which is how some deduplication products in secondary storage currently work. "It also does not compromise metadata attributes of the file -- we compress only the data within packets."

Unlike deduplication engines, the product does not compare each byte of incoming data against an index of previously stored information. Rather, StoreWiz's compression "tears apart" common components of the CIFS and NFS protocols using a stored dictionary similar to the way WAN optimization devices reduce IP traffic.

However, the product also differs from WAN optimization devices, which are typically paired at either end of the wire, "reconstituting" data before sending it to storage at each end point.

Potential pitfalls

With the StoreWiz appliance, traffic must be rerouted back the way it came in order to be readable. This means that when restoring data, whether from offsite disaster recovery repositories or tape-based backups, the StoreWiz appliance or its Web-based "emergency" portal, called Revert, is needed.

"This could potentially shy some users away from it," said Heidi Biggar, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group.

"Anyone doing primary storage optimization has to be able to answer the big questions around data recoverability and reliability," said Brad O'Neill, senior analyst with the Taneja Group. "Enterprises will have to test this very carefully."

StoreWiz also claims the product necessitates no change to the backup infrastructure, but does admit the compression typically a feature of tape drives must be turned off in order for it to back up the data; trying to compress already compressed data won't work. The product also will not work on encrypted data streams.

On the other hand, the product could also eliminate WAN optimization devices if a user wants to replicate data to a disaster recovery site from the NAS array behind the StoreWiz appliance, Shahak pointed out. And despite the newness of the technology and the difficulty of rip-and-replace once it's installed, 120 units have already been shipped to users, according to StoreWiz's vice president of marketing Orli Amir.

Currently, the StoreWiz product is also limited in its scalability. The larger of the two new 6000 series models, the 6500, is meant to support arrays like the FAS3000 series from Network Appliance Inc., (NetApp) with up to 12 ports for connectivity. It also does not support block-based access, except in the case of an Oracle database attached through an NFS mount. However, Shahar said that a new high-end 6000 series model is due out next quarter; Fibre Channel support is also expected in the second half of the year.

The next place for dedupe

There are still kinks to be worked out, analysts said, and StoreWiz will need the backing of a major OEM or reseller in order to have its product catch on. However, according to O'Neill, in concept StoreWiz is ahead of the game.

"I fully expect to see many of today's companies exploring deduplication and compression in secondary storage to move toward primary storage over the next 18 months," O'Neill said, adding that "there will be an irresistible extension of the market opportunity" as storage capacity continues to grow in users' environments. O'Neill also pointed out that if implemented correctly, primary storage data reduction could also create performance gains on the network.

"We're very early in this story," he said. "But I expect to see partnerships and traction for this kind of product by next year."

Pricing and availability

The STN-6300 model, with a minimum of four and a maximum of eight copper or optical ports, starts at $22,000. The 6500, which scales from eight ports to 12 ports, starts at $42,000. Both products are available now.


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