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DataCore claims bragging rights after report lauds its performance

DataCore has rebuffed EMC's claims that its SANsymphony product is less than stellar. The company is tooting its own horn after an Evaluator Group review gave it a big thumbs up.

Having put its SANsymphony appliance through its paces with the Evaluator Group, DataCore Software has rebuffed EMC's charges of poor performance and limited scaling. "DataCore's I/O operations per second far exceed any single-box storage system we've ever encountered," Evaluator Group's review said. "Throughput numbers were also exceptional." It didn't, however, offer up any EMC customers that are using SANsymphony against Symmetrix.

DataCore CEO George Teixeira said the challenge was issued to EMC to "take the issue off the table once and for all and get back to basics." DataCore says it's sick of EMC's trash talk, and is claiming bragging rights for the ability of its in-band virtualization appliance to handle large storage configurations. The challenge has elevated DataCore's reputation in the market, and EMC could now end up with egg on its face. But Teixeira is also realistic enough to acknowledge that EMC is likely to move the goalposts in any case. It will probably say that isn't fast enough, he muses.

Challenge The Evaluator Group says a $60,000 SANsymphony system with dual-CPU Intel servers acting as storage domain servers recorded 400,000 IOPS and data throughput of 2.1Gbps. That, it says, is 8-25 times the published performance of any other virtualization product and 3-20 times the performance of any midrange array.

DataCore CEO George Teixeira told the451 that EMC has been trying to blunt it in the market by telling potential customers that its technology is slow and does not scale. "We know, when a potential buyer asks us 'aren't you guys the bottleneck?' that EMC has already been with them." In-band virtualization techniques have come under fire for dragging down storage performance and being unable to scale – you have to add lots of appliances as the storage network grows. Not so, says DataCore chairman and CTO Ziya Aral. "If only the routing function is handled 'in-band,' then certainly an added penalty is to be expected – although it is no more guaranteed to be a bottleneck than a switch is. But if the network platform is responsible for storage delivery, as SANsymphony is, it does not take a leap of faith to conclude that a network infrastructure – with the fastest CPU, storage, memory and up-to-date I/O structures – inevitably speed the underlying disk." More so when multi-tiered cache systems such as Shark and Lightning are used, he says. After all DataCore's chief goals are to drive increased automation and to make applications run faster.

Marketing Teixeira says it's clear that with IBM, Hitachi and Fujitsu Softek each selling SANsymphony in one form or another, DataCore has started to become an issue for EMC.

Moreover, where last year the question about virtualization was 'does it work?' this year the world has changed and users want to optimize resources and take the task of storage allocation away from administrators. Nevertheless, Teixeira maintains that routing and mapping are not really virtualization and that capacity on demand – as it's being pushed by the big vendors – is "a crock." When storage is requested and assigned, someone has to turn off the computer, physically install and attach disks and then configure the system, Teixeira says. DataCore virtualization on the other hand enables even laptop users to access up to 2TB data: it's a kind of 'give 'em enough disk' approach.

But won't DataCore's channels dry up as its partners develop their own virtualization technologies? Certainly IBM has its own StorageTank virtualization system under development, "but that's in the future," Teixeira says. Furthermore, IBM's top 50 channel partners are also carrying SANsymphony now, he says. IBM and its partners account for about one third of DataCore's revenue.

Hitachi has begun to sell the system in Japan, and Teixeira expects that its Hitachi Data Systems unit will also pick it up for the US and European markets. It's not inconceivable that it could also end up in the Sun and Hewlett-Packard channels via those two companies' relationships with Hitachi for its high-end arrays.

DataCore doesn't do much direct selling in the conventional sense. It supports its channel effort – and now has some 50 resellers – and then targets C-level executives. Hospitals are the current top buyers of SANsymphony, what with tough new laws on the prevention of data loss coming into force in the US.

Business model Teixeira won't disclose DataCore's revenue but says it has about 200 customers, which have paid an average of $75,000-100,000 each. That's $20m of product business alone, and Teixeira says the reseller deals themselves have netted $30m. The company is now cash positive, he says. This, and having raised $75m in venture funding – including $37m in last year's bear market – means he's not looking for any more.

DataCore's dozen or so founders started the company in 1996, when they left the remnants of the Encore Computer storage group as it was being sold to Sun Microsystems for $185m in a fire sale by Japan Energy Corp, owner of its parent Gould Computer. They took with them the clustering expertise that has become the key to

DataCore's competitive advantage and didn't pay themselves for a year. Two other key members of the Encore team left to form StorageApps (now owned by HP), but didn't have the clustering expertise, Teixeira says, and that's the reason in his mind why the StorageApps solution (HP's sv3000) doesn't have it now. The loss of these teams also spelled disaster for Sun, which in the end was unable to turn its acquisition into the class of enterprise storage it had hoped. The Encore unit had been pursued by IBM, Unisys and others at a price of $500m, Teixeira says, when Japan Energy out of the blue said it would be shedding the unit within 90 days. The asking price plummeted and Sun snuck in to take it from underneath the other companies' noses.

Technology Teixeira believes that low-level operations such as LUN mapping and masking will end up being implemented into the switching gear, but that applications like snapshot, mirroring and replication need intelligence that can be provided by a PC like the one DataCore ships with its system.

Teixeira also pokes holes in the current appetite for storage resource management (SRM). Computer Associates, Tivoli and others already give users lots of green and red lights, but "you still have to call Joe to move the data." Give them 2TB, then they won't run out, Teixeira suggests. SRM will help with metrics and stats, but to better serve storage to users and eliminate downtime, "just give them the storage in the first place," he says.

In any case, DataCore wants SANsymphony to be feeding SRM applications, not running them. Coming soon to SANsymphony will be a new 'capabilities' layer, plus a better user interface and greater automation. Other companies are trying to reverse-engineer automation, Teixeira suggests, whereas DataCore uses Wintel as the compatibility layer. "Any switch that works with Microsoft will work with SANsymphony."

Teixeira doesn't plan to add file-level management to SANsymphony, which operates on block-level data. "File stuff is the domain of the operating system guys," Teixeira says. "Setting up arrays is a SAN task. Stretching files is NAS." The problem with NAS is that in a large network you'll end up with tens of NAS boxes that will need fixing. Just look at Network Appliance, he says, pointing to the company's forthcoming announcements. "It started out saying the work is NAS. Now it's doing SANs." And if convergence is the answer then Teixeira believes Microsoft and Veritas, which are already supplying NAS 'kits,' are the companies that will come out on top.

Competition Teixeira says Veritas' model is to sell a Volume Manager for use on each server that is attached to a pool of storage. SANsymphony works on the entire pool, not against the client servers attached to the pool. Moreover, it's easy enough to develop mapping and routing, but automation, QOS, management and security, these are far more difficult to build, says Teixeira. Veritas talks about virtualization, "but where is it?"

Teixeira says StorageApps doesn't do clustering – that's the expertise DataCore took from Encore/Gould – and FalconStor is doing "a cluster of two," while DataCore offers N+1 clustering.

IBM "is the only company [in this sector] which can sell software," Teixeira ventures. EMC says software, software, software but it's still a box-shifter, and Symmetrix Remote Data Facility and the other tools are drivers for hardware sales, Teixeira believes. There's also no commission model to support it. None of the salespeople wanted to sell the lower-value Clariion systems, which is why EMC had to go to Dell Computer, he says.

The real competition "is the mind-set," says Teixeira. "Shall we buy another array or do storage networking?" This makes EMC his direct competitor, not Veritas.

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