NetApp adds object storage with Bycast acquisition

Bycast's StorageGrid software gives NetApp another piece to add to its unified storage platform, and a foundation for building private and public cloud storage.

NetApp today acquired privately held Canadian software vendor Bycast Inc., giving NetApp its first object storage platform and a building block for private and public cloud storage implementations.

NetApp did not disclose the acquisition price. NetApp senior vice president of product strategy and development Jay Kidd said the deal is expected to close in May.

Bycast's StorageGrid object storage software is sold mainly as part of medical archiving systems though OEM partners IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and reseller partner Dell Inc. But the most recent version of StorageGrid added features such as clustered NAS, security partitions, chargeback and support for virtual servers that were intended to broaden its scope and make it better suited for cloud storage. StorageGrid will also help NetApp compete with EMC Corp.'s Atmos object storage system designed for private and public storage clouds.

Kidd said NetApp's short-term plan is to market StorageGrid in its current form while integrating it with NetApp's overall storage platform "in measured steps.

"Over the long run, there are a lot of opportunities for integration and we will share more news with specific plans closer to delivery," Kidd said.

Kidd said that although Bycast has focused mostly on health care, "our intent is broader than healthcare." He mentioned digital media, Web 2.0 companies and cloud service providers as other markets where StorageGrid can fit.

NetApp today lets customers license NAS, Fibre Channel (FC) and iSCSI protocols on its unified storage platforms, and Kidd said NetApp NAS customers have inquired about object storage as well.

"We see this as a natural extension of our unified storage strategy going forward," he said. "Right now, the market for object storage is fairly small, but we anticipate high growth. The key thing is the underlying storage platform where data is actually stored. Whether servers connect directly to that as they do today through Fibre Channel, iSCSI or NAS protocols, or go through the Bycast storage platform for an object interface, you still can leverage the capacity of NetApp's storage platform," Kidd said.

Industry experts say object storage is rapidly increasing in importance as organizations try to keep up with unchecked growth of unstructured data. Unlike NAS, object storage systems use APIs to tell applications how to store and retrieve unique object IDs instead of NFS and CIFS protocols. This architecture works better with massive repositories of similar files, allowing storage systems to scale higher than traditional NAS.

Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, said the acquisition shows how important object storage is becoming.

"NetApp's reputation is almost 100% in file systems, so NetApp's endorsement of object storage speaks volumes," he said. "If you're going to deal with millions and billions of objects, it's hard to get a handle on that unless the storage is architected in an object-oriented fashion. File systems and file managers do a good job, but if you're looking for infinite scalability, there definitely are issues with file systems."

Taneja said he's not surprised that Bycast was acquired, but expected one of its OEM partners to buy it.

"I would think Bycast had significantly more value to HP and IBM because that was their sole product in that area," Taneja said. "This could unhinge IBM and HP from that product."

StorageGrid software is used in the IBM Grid Medical Archive Solution (GMAS) and the HP Medical Archive Solution (HP MAS).

NetApp's Kidd said his firm intends to support customers who have purchased StorageGrid through Bycast's partners, and the vendor will talk to those partners about continuing their relationships. While IBM already OEMs NetApp's storage portfolio, Kidd said he's not sure if HP or Dell will continue to sell StorageGrid if it's owned by a competitor. Dell recently said it would begin selling its own DX Object Storage Solution platform in May, but has not disclosed where the underlying IP will come from.

Kidd said NetApp will keep Bycast's Vancouver office and expects to retain its executive team, as well as the product development and delivery teams. Bycast CEO Moe Kermani will join NetApp and run the Bycast team, Kidd said.

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