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Copan CEO: Putting spindown on disk arrays isn't MAID

Mark Ward, CEO of Copan, isn't worried about EMC or HDS offering technology similar to Copan's MAID because, he says, layering spindown onto traditional disk arrays is like putting lipstick on a pig.

Due to constraints on energy use and space usage in the data center, power-saving technologies are gaining the attention of storage administrators. One of these is Copan Systems' MAID (Massive Array of Idle Disks) technology, which packs a large number of disks into a small space while minimizing power and cooling by only powering up active drives.

In terms of storage density, Copan's MAID approach nears that of tape, and the company also claims its technology achieves greater capacity per rack-space than any other disk-based product. Idle disks are spun and their health verified periodically in what Copan calls 'disk aerobics.' Data access times are longer than they would be for spinning disks but far more rapid than would be the case with tape-held data.

But Copan has yet to achieve profitability, and other major storage vendors plan to incorporate drive spindown into their products. What are the prospects for MAID technology and Copan? To find out, SearchStorageUK bureau chief Antony Adshead interviewed Copan CEO Mark Ward when Ward was in London this week.

SearchStorageUK: You've been quoted as saying that the market segment Copan is aiming at is persistent data. What exactly is persistent data?

Mark Ward: Data that is written once but read infrequently, a space which is complementary to transactional storage. Transactional storage is I/O-intensive and deals with lots of small files or blocks. Persistent data is comprised of large files that are needed less frequently. We're seeing runaway growth in persistent data – often held in transactional storage – for use cases as medical records, imaging etc.

EMC Clariion arrays with spindown result in a physical footprint six times what we achieve with enterprise MAID.
Mark Ward
CEOCopan Systems
SearchStorageUK: What types of companies would have a good deal of persistent data?

Ward: We define our customers as those in the Fortune 1000 – the 800-lb gorillas in the marketplace – as well as the information-rich companies like Facebook and MySpace who are not yet in the Fortune 1000 but have to look at storing lots of persistent data. We are aiming for the 20% of enterprise accounts that account for 80% of IT consumption and we have an average selling price of $550,000 per platform.

SearchStorageUK: Copan is currently not profitable and is privately funded. How does the company plan to achieve profitability? Will it go public?

Ward: We aim to more than double customers and revenue in the next nine months to position ourselves for an IPO on the capital markets, assuming by that time they have unfrozen. If in 2009 the capital markets loosen up we will go for an IPO. But if they don't, we will continue to plow money into sales and development and will not have to spend money on all the back-office costs which an IPO would involve.

We've taken a strategic decision to become a global company, not only to meet the requirements of international consumers but also to avoid overexposure to the problems in the U.S. economy. A large round of financing about a year ago raised $32m and enabled investment in the technology and people needed to achieve this.

SearchStorageUK: EMC, IBM, Hitachi Data Systems and Nexsan already offer or have plans to offer a power-saving spindown function for drives within their arrays. How long until Copan is just one of many vendors offering MAID?

Ward: Other vendors have reached for the longest pole in the tent – that of spindown – and it's good that they've embraced it, but with their traditional storage platforms, they won't be able to accomplish what we have. They would have to create brand new platforms to do that and they've yet to announce they will do so. Software feature-enabled spindown, from EMC, for example, allows storage admins to make savings of 19% on power. But simply layering spindown onto your arrays is like putting lipstick on a . . . it's a less than robust product offering. EMC Clariion arrays with spindown result in a physical footprint six times what we achieve with enterprise MAID.

SearchStorageUK: How does enterprise MAID compare to traditional storage systems in terms of green storage metrics?

Ward: We have 11 patents that mean our products use 10% of power and heat and generate 10% of the vibration of traditional storage systems. They include those for power-managed RAID, power, cooling and packaging design, canisters containing fourteen 1TB drives, and disk aerobics software which provides for a 7-year use case compared to three for, say, an EMC product, which means you spend half the amount.

SearchStorageUK: But how can you compete with the R&D might of the biggest storage vendors?

Ward: In the early 1990s EMC allowed a small company called Network Appliance to get started under its nose and to create a NAS filer product. We believe we can do the same under EMC's and NetApp's noses and create a product that is complementary to that of the traditional storage vendors.

The market is being driven by changing storage economics – there is a lack of solutions in the data protection and archiving space that leverage disk-based storage and cost is driving a move to online information access at the price and density of tape.

SearchStorageUK: Copan recently created a tech development center outside Boston in Southborough, Mass. Why?

Ward: This will enable us to add technology and people in a way we couldn't previously. Colorado is a very block-based storage environment with people like Storagetek and McData close by. Our development center in Southborough is equidistant between EMC and Sun and allows us to draw on the pool of expertise in that area.

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