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Washington University cuts VMware provisioning time, digitizes records with disk array upgrades

Xiotech's loyal customer base is happy with the upgrade to Emprise 7000 self-healing disk arrays from the end-of-lifed Magnitude, but analysts are looking for the vendor to spread its wings further in the data storage market.

Two groups at Washington University in St. Louis swapped out older Xiotech Corp. Magnitude systems for Emprise 7000s and say the new disk arrays have improved VMware provisioning time and kept up with data growth more effectively than the older models.

The university's business school and libraries switched systems ahead of Xiotech's decision to end-of-life the Magnitude disk arrays in favor of Emprise SANs based on Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) technology acquired from Seagate in 2007.

Meanwhile, analysts said Xiotech needs to expand beyond its traditional audience to gain more ground in the enterprise data storage industry.

Olin Business School improves virtualization management

Scott Ladewig, network and operations manager for information services at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, said his department migrated from a Magnitude 3D 3000 array to a 24 TB Emprise 7000 approximately 18 months ago. The Olin Business School has been a Xiotech customer since 2001.

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"We were happy with the [Magnitude] product, but excited about ISE and interested in getting ahead of the curve," Ladewig said.

Each ISE "building block" unit contains 20 to 40 drives, an internal controller, fans and a power supply. The Emprise 7000 SAN can support Fibre Channel (FC) or iSCSI host connectivity, and can hold any number of ISE blocks. Xiotech offers a five-year warranty on the sealed units, which are self-healing and, Xiotech claims, don't need drives to be swapped out for maintenance.

Ladewig said the five-year warranty was one of his incentives to move to Emprise, along with improved performance. But the biggest benefit to making the upgrade was installing Xiotech's Virtual View to manage his VMware environment. The plug-in lets customers provision virtual machines and manage their associated storage resources from within the Xiotech management console.

"It has definitely been a lot quicker to provision virtual machines than when we first tried out VMware on our previous SAN," Ladewig said. He estimates Virtual View cut virtual server provisioning time between 40% and 50% over the Magnitude array without the plug-in.

University Libraries push digitization of historical records

The Washington University in St. Louis campus libraries also upgraded from a Magnitude to an Emprise 7000 to help digitize historical records, including the university's most well-known collection of documents relating to the Dred Scott Case of 1846. The University Libraries are a network of 12 libraries on three campuses that house 4,000,000 volumes.

In 2006, when the libraries installed their first SAN with a Magnitude 3000, they did so with a stretched cluster between two sides of the same building. Each cluster mirrored storage module held 5 TB of usable capacity, according to head of library systems Bill Fryman. Three years later, the libraries put in a new pair of Emprise systems with 60 usable TB.

"We put images of original documents stored with the Missouri state archives on our SAN to make them available to researchers — they're stored in high enough resolution to do research without seeing the paper document," which prevents deterioration of original materials, Fryman said. Also contributing to the data growth is the digitization of videos stored on old film and audio tapes, along with a move to store doctoral dissertations and master's theses digitally.

While Emprise is helping to keep up with growth, Fryman said he always has his eye on next year's capacity needs. "I'm hoping that the amount of data I can store in a single DataPac will continue to grow," he said. Right now the maximum capacity of a DataPac is 16 TB in 3U.

Analysts look for Xiotech to continue broadening horizons

Xiotech has refocused itself entirely around Emprise and ISE since purchasing the intellectual property from Seagate. The company announced last April that 1,100 ISE units were in production after the first year of availability. Before end-of-lifing Magnitude, the company also appointed a new CEO -- tapping Alan Atkinson, former CEO of WysDM Software Inc. and most recently vice president of the Storage Software Group at EMC Corp.

Wikibon analyst David Vellante pointed out that Xiotech has been building on Virtual View to encompass automated provisioning and deeper integration with applications. On March 18, the company launched a Virtualization Performance Pack, a bundle of plug-ins for integration with VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer. Xiotech has also opened its ICON management console to developers through WebDAV APIs.

However, industry experts also said that to reach the company's goals of penetrating the enterprise and expanding its market footprint, Xiotech will have to broaden its sales channels and messaging beyond where it has played before.

"[Application integration] is a good strategy, but they have to be seen as relevant in order for this to really take off," Vellante wrote to in an email. "They have to connect to the broader industry if they have any chance of 'taking over the world.'"

Added Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, "They seem to be doing what is needed to stay relevant -- keep their story fresh, enhancing the product to make it attractive to retain existing customers -- along with gaining some new customers. Ultimately, however, they need to land some channel partners or VARs outside of their traditional sales model."

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