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Xiotech flashes self-healing storage systems at SNW

Xiotech's Emprise storage systems use a proprietary technology to reduce heat and vibration. Xiotech claims that an Emprise system will incur zero service events over five years.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Xiotech Corp. today took the wraps off storage systems built on technology it acquired from Seagate last year, unveiling two Emprise systems based on what it calls Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) technology.

Xiotech acquired Seagate's Advanced Storage Architecture last November. It then acquired a 100-engineer group in the deal and grabbed $40 million in funding to pay for bringing the technology to market. But since the deal, Xiotech kept a lid on the specifics of the technology and the resulting systems until a news conference Monday at Storage Networking World.

According to Xiotech, an ISE reduces the two greatest causes of drive failure -- heat and vibration -- to provide more than 100 times the reliability of a regular disk drive enclosed in a typical storage system drive bay. On average, an ISE, the company went on to say, will incur zero service events in five years of operation.

Xiotech's new system comes in two models. The dual-controller Emprise 7000 SAN system supports up to 64 ISEs and includes the same management features as the Xiotech Magnitude 3D 4000 platform, including intelligent provisioning and a replication suite. Like the Magnitude 3D, the Emprise 7000 supports Fibre Channel or iSCSI. It scales to 1 PB.

The second system, the Emprise 5000, is a DAS system that consists of one ISE and can be upgraded to a Model 7000. It supports Fibre Channel only.

Each ISE includes two sealed DataPacs, along with redundant power and cooling, battery backup for 96 hours and redundant Managed Reliability Controllers. The controllers provide RAID, cache and drive management. ISEs come in three capacities, depending on drive type: high performance (2.2 TB), balanced (4.8 TB) and high capacity (16 TB). Drive options are 3.5-inch 15000 disks, 3.5-inch 7200 disks and 2.5-inch 15000 disks. Xiotech executives said the systems support solid-state drives, although they won't be available until later this year.

Steve Sicola, who came to Xiotech with the Seagate team and is now Xiotech's chief technology offier, said the Emprise 7000 is positioned as a midrange to high-end system. Xiotech calls the systems "self-healing" because they can rebuild drives quickly without data loss. "If [the Emprise] should fail, it heals itself," he said..

Then Sicola compared the self-healing Emprise to the Black Knight from Monty Python's The Holy Grail. "Most things are just a flesh wound." Sicola didn't delve deeply into the technology, but he said the packaging eliminates vibration and maximizes cooling, and its drive technology recovers smaller increments of data to shorten recovery times.

He chided storage vendors for failing to change the foundation their systems have been built on during the last 20 years. "Caching RAID and device management are weighing down controllers," he said. "The solution is to move the intelligence close to the actual disk themselves and to virtualize the drives within the array. It's about preventing failures, it's about self-healing, it's about managed self-reliability."

Sicola said Xiotech had 14 early adopters for the Emprise, and one of them is Newsweek magazine. Len Carella, Newsweek's chief technology officer, said his team happily tested Xiotech's self-healing claims with an Emprise 7000. "They told us try to break it. My guys really tried to break it," he said. "We rolled it against the wall and banged it around. I even walked up a few times, shut power supplies and pulled cables to try and get it to fail. It didn't fail."

Evidence that Emprise Intelligent Storage Element can repair itself

Newsweek has been a Xiotech customer for seven years, but Carella said he was skeptical when he first heard of the new system. "I thought it was vaporware," he said. "I wasn't sure what they meant until they showed us diagrams of what it looked like."

Carella said his team also reported at least one case of a drive repairing itself without going down or losing data. Now he said he's planning to use the Emprise 7000 to replace his Magnitude 3D as part of Newsweek's move to a new data center in lower Manhattan. He envisions using the Emprise system and Dell servers to boot from the storage area network (SAN) and employ diskless workstations.

Xiotech's Emprise is part of a new wave of clustered I/O systems that are appearing. These the grid systems that IBM acquired from startup XIV Ltd. and those that newcomer Atrato Inc. launched last week. .

The Emprise "has a lot of potential," said IDC analyst Benjamin Woo. "They're looking at it from the disk drive up. Most SAN vendors take garden-variety disk drives, but this is a new approach to data protection. The sealed disk DataPac has fewer moving parts."

Still, Woo said Xiotech has its work cut out for it when it comes to competing with larger storage vendors, such as EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp. "Xiotech is a $100 million [annual revenue] company in a space with $9 billion companies like EMC," he said. "This technology is new, and it's not fully tested yet."

Pricing for the Emprise 5000 begins at $20,000. Xiotech didn't give a starting price for the Emprise 7000, but it is expected to be priced in the same range as the Magnitude 3D 4000, whose price averages in the $80,000 to $100,000 range.

Next Steps

No-maintenance disk array aims to eliminate hard drive swapping

Xiotech snaps up intellectual property from Seagate

IBM grabs grid storage startup XIV

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