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FalconStor enters storage hardware market with its NSS HC Fibre Channel, iSCSI system

FalconStor brings its NSS HC series to the U.S. to challenge its own partners with a low-end SAN system. The storage hardware version of NSS is already marketed with H3C in China.

FalconStor Software Inc. is making its Network Storage Server (NSS) HC series, a hardware-based, highly available version of its NSS storage virtualization product, available today and throwing down the gauntlet against low-end storage-area networks (SANs) from Compellent Technologies Inc., Dell Inc.'s EqualLogic, EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co.'s LeftHand Networks and others.

The new NSS HC series consists of four models based on a combination of FalconStor's NSS storage virtualization software and dual-controller iSCSI and Fibre Channel-connected storage hardware from Huawei-3Com (H3C) Co. Ltd. The NSS HC620 has two dual-core CPUs, 4 GB cache, eight Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) host interfaces, and support for up to 224 SAS or SATA disk drives. The NSS HC630 has four dual-core processors, 8 GB cache, 16 GbE interfaces and can support up to 336 disks. The NSS HC650 has the same specs as the HC630, but splits the host interfaces into 8 GbE and 8 FC for multiprotocol access. The NSS HC670 has four 10 GbE interfaces. All of the models have dual active-active controllers.

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The systems run FalconStor's NSS software, which bundles in thin provisioning, snapshots, mirroring, multipathing and replication. NSS gateways attached to third-party storage can replicate to HC series boxes, and vice versa. The NSS software inside the HC series head can also be used to virtualize third-party storage behind the HC head, like a low-end version of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) USP V high-end disk array.

Eric Kao, director of NSS product marketing, said the product line has been selling in China, but hasn't been available in North America. "The platform has reached maturity and had success against tier two SAN players," he said.

Kao said the inclusion of iSCSI and Fibre Channel on the NSS HC gives FalconStor an advantage over iSCSI-only systems from EqualLogic and LeftHand. Kao also said the products will support solid-state drives (SSDs) in the fourth quarter, and intends to compete with Compellent by treating the SSD capacity as an extension of cache rather than moving data in and out of SSDs and hard drives based on frequency of access.

"Compellent requires another write to disk when it moves data back to the hard drive capacity," Kao said. "We'll just copy data to cache when needed, without having to go back and forth."

Kao also said FalconStor will continue to sell its software-only version of NSS, and will continue its Totally Open program that emphasizes the software's compatibility with most major operating systems and third-party storage hardware.

The NSS HC platform is a major departure for FalconStor from years of a strictly software-only worldview, according to Arun Taneja, founder and senior analyst at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group.

"The power of this product shouldn't be underestimated," Taneja said of FalconStor's NSS, which has been in production over six major software releases during the last decade.

However, "for a hardware company to go to software is one thing, but to be a totally agnostic software player one day and then have hardware … maintaining neutrality while also steering customers toward specific hardware requires more serious thinking in terms of the marketing and other strategic impacts to the company," Taneja added.

The HC series is a welcome addition for one FalconStor customer, Mansoor Rahaman, chief technology officer at U.K. real estate company CB Richard Ellis. Rahaman said his company replaced an NSS infrastructure based on Dot Hill Systems Corp. arrays and HP servers running the NSS software at headquarters and at a branch office in Madrid.

"Before, we had to manage two to three different environments to get FalconStor to function," he said. "This means we go from three different department teams looking after each other's equipment to one management console."

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