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SGI puts a Copan spin on data archiving system

SGI packages Copan Systems' MAID disk spin-down technology into an ArcFiniti file data archiving system with separate tiers and disk protection capabilities

Silicon Graphics International (SGI) Corp. today introduced the ArcFiniti file data archiving system that integrates a high-performance primary cache along with the disk spin-down technology it acquired from Copan Systems Inc. last year.

ArcFiniti is the first SGI product that integrates Copan massive array of idle disks (MAID) technology with SGI technology. SGI did re-brand Copan technology as the SGI Copan 400 for block data last June. Copan's MAID technology spins down disk drives that aren't active, saving on energy costs.

SGI's ArcFiniti places active file data in a virtualized primary cache on the front end and automatically moves older, less frequently accessed data to a disk-based system on the back end via SGI's Data Migration Facility (DMF) software. The primary cache has 100% spun up RAID 6 drives, and users can access it through an NFS-based network mount point. ArcFiniti's file archiving tier consists of power-managed MAID IP. All files in primary and archive tiers are always online and visible to the users.

For ArcFiniti, SGI said it now allows up to 50% of the drives to be spun up at once, up from 25% in previous MAID versions.

"We virtualized the primary cache with the back end so users see one pool of storage. They will not see two blocks of storage," said Floyd Christofferson, SGI product marketing director. "We're bringing the type of technology that we deploy in some of the world's largest archives and making it accessible to the general compute environment. You get the advantages of a disk-based system with costs associated with tape."

After Copan raised more than $110 million in funding, SGI acquired it for $2 million in private foreclosure from Copan's secured creditors in February 2010. Copan invented MAID, which claimed to lower operational costs by powering down a portion of drives within an array to lower consumption costs, but the company failed to sell enough systems to stay in business.

SGI is targeting the midrange to high-end long-term file archiving market with ArcFiniti.

One ArcFiniti 4.5U cabinet can pack up to approximately 1.5 PB of storage capacity. The same cabinet can scale to five different capacity configurations. The three smallest configurations -- with 156 TB, 234 TB and 468 TB active tiers -- include 20 TB of primary cache, three Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports and two 10 GbE ports. There's also a model with a 936 TB active tier, 40 TB primary cache, six GbE ports and four 10 GbE ports. The largest unit has a 1.4 PB active tier, 60 TB primary cache, six GbE ports and nine 10 GbE ports.

List pricing ranges from $191,842 for the smallest model to a little more than $1 million for the largest. The systems will be available May 1.

ArcFiniti tiers data based on user policies, continually examines data integrity and monitors disk health every 30 days to find errors before drives fail. The systems include from five to 30 spare drives. During the down cycles, an algorithm checks the data and drives for soft or hard errors, especially defects that may require a potential RAID rebuild. If any are found, a shadow copy of the data is moved to a spare drive and the potentially defective drive is put out of service.

Can SGI keep Copan technology spinning?

The challenge for SGI is to succeed with technology that failed to save Copan. Independent backup expert W. Curtis Preston said the final nail in Copan's coffin came when the vendor married MAID technology with data deduplication through a partnership with FalconStor Software Inc. Copan's systems couldn't keep up with the high I/O requirements.

"It was the worst disaster; the performance was abysmal," Preston said.

Preston said he's skeptical about ArcFiniti's chances. Although SGI reps claim the archiving product is cheaper than competitive disk systems, Preston said it doesn't match up with the price of tape -- most enterprises' medium of choice for data archiving.

"It's simply not competitive with what's in the market," he said. "They're aiming for the long-term archiving market and that is tape. Tape is just as reliable and disk is more expensive. It's expensive to buy and more expensive for power and cooling reasons, so why would a customer buy that over a competing tape solution?"

Sheila Childs, research director in Gartner's Storage Strategies and Technologies Group, said SGI is trying to push into a market that's crowded yet hasn't been popular with users. Copan's long-term disk archiving appliance competitors include EMC Corp.'s Centera CAS system and Data Domain Archiver, Hewlett-Packard Integrated Archive Platform, Hitachi Data Systems Hitachi Content Platform (HCP), IBM Information Archive and Nexsan Assureon.

"The market for purpose-built archiving devices hasn't been particularly healthy," Childs said. "It has not seen a tremendous amount of growth. But I see a tremendous need for storage of massive archiving data. Where we will see the growth in the market will be in media entertainment, high-performance computing, business governance and the federal government -- anyone with large types of files. As long as these solutions are cost effective, they're great for these verticals."


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