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Nexsan chases Apple shops with SATA disk array

Nexsan is planning an Apple-specific disk array to ship in March aimed at media companies looking for a denser alternative to XServ RAID.

Nexsan Technologies Inc. is planning a version of its SATABeast disk array that has been modified specifically for Apple servers as it tries to tempt loyal Mac users by filling a gap between Apple's storage products.

With the SATABeast Xi, which is expected to become generally available around March 15, Nexsan is aiming to fill a gap between the capacities of Apple's XServ RAID and the XSan. XServ scales to 14 disks and 10.5 TB capacity with 750 GB SATA drives. The XSan is actually a SAN with a SAN file system layered over it that's designed to scale to hundreds of terabytes or petabytes.

Nexsan is adding Apple-specific enhancements to SATABeast, including Apple-like hardware packaging, a Web-based management GUI meant to look like Apple's Safari Web browser and wizards to address some of the peculiarities of Apple's approach to Fibre Channel, according to Nexsan chief technology officer Gary Watson.

"Apple's XServ RAID operates so that a given LUN can only show up on one port, and if you want to multipath, you need to mirror the data," Watson said. "Our wizard will prevent users from setting up storage in a way that can't be resolved by Apple's system and offers them a lower cost approach to multipathing." The Xi's cache has also been tweaked to optimize streaming video performance.

Nexsan resellers say media companies are looking for new storage alternatives as Apple's Final Cut Pro gains popularity in the video editing world. According to Chris Donoyan, president of Los Angeles-based HomeRun Media Inc., his company first began reselling Nexsan about six months ago as disk-based backup for XSan deployments that were often massive. Donoyan said his customers liked Nexsan's pricing and density -- Nexsan can cram 42 TB into a 4U footprint, while the same capacity in Apple's smaller XServ RAID disk arrays would take up 8U.

Donoyan said the value is in the speeds and feeds Nexsan can offer over XServ RAID, such as support for 4 Gbps Fibre Channel and 1 TB disk drives. "Any little jump in performance is huge for companies doing video processing." Nexsan also offers a three-year warranty standard, while Apple's standard warranty is one year.

Apple has not qualified Nexsan's product, and there is no formal relationship between the two companies, which means Nexsan will have a tough time swaying hardcore Mac loyalists. But analysts point out the product could appeal to users in mixed environments who want to manage Mac, Linux and Windows systems together.

"It's in small environments where you're more likely to see total dedication to Mac and Apple products only," said Greg Schulz, founder of the StorageIO Group. "Larger organizations where this disk array would fit tend to be hybrid environments more often than not."

According to Donoyan, the loyalty tends to be more focused on workstations than back-end IT equipment. "I have users attaching Apple XServs via dual Linux controllers to Hitachi Data Systems arrays," he said. "Companies make business decisions, not emotional ones."

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