Posts Tagged ‘Storage’

Start-Up Data Storage Firm Actifio Hits $1 Billion Mark

March 24th, 2014

Social networking companies, online game developers and other consumer-focused tech start-ups have attracted huge investor attention, and lofty valuations to boot.

Today, a young start-up, Actifio, is drawing similar investor interest in a decidedly unflashy sector: data storage.

On Monday, Actifio is to announce that it has raised $100 million in new financing, valuing the entire company at $1 billion. That vote of confidence places Actifio in an elite club of start-ups with 10-figure valuations, stepping up the pressure on the company to deliver on its ambitions.

Though little known outside of technology circles, Actifio is rapidly gaining large corporate customers as it attacks a problem that the incumbent data storage firms have been slow to address. Its software, which costs an average of $349,000 for a three-year contract, allows a company access to a virtual version of backup copies of data, freeing up space and improving the overall efficiency of the company’s data storage.

Actifio’s backers draw a comparison to VMware, which was a leader in creating software that was critical to cloud computing. While that expanded the amount of work a single computer server could do, Actifio’s product is aimed at enhancing a data center.

“An idea like this comes along about once a decade,” said Jamie Goldstein, a partner at North Bridge, a venture capital firm that was an initial investor in Actifio and participated in the latest financing round. “Data has become such an important part of the tech economy, and the entire economy. Anybody who is collecting a lot of data is going to be facing this problem.”

Actifio, which was founded in 2009, hopes to go public at some point next year, and its investors are betting on a big payday. A hedge fund company, Tiger Global Management, led the latest investment round, which included participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners and other venture capital firms.

The company, based in Boston, is not profitable, but it had other impressive numbers to show its investors. It says that its bookings grew by 182 percent last year, and that it now has more than 300 business customers around the world. Those include companies like Time Warner Cable, Netflix, IBM and Unilever.

One customer, the big private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, is in the process of putting the software in place in North America and Europe. Peter Sung, a vice president for information technology at K.K.R., said the software greatly reduces the time it takes to retrieve copies of data and makes those copies easier to manage.

Actifio has a potential rival in EMC, the data storage giant, which last year increased its focus on managing copies of data. In response, Actifio’s founder and chief executive, Ash Ashutosh, wrote a blog post sarcastically congratulating EMC on “recognizing the transformational impact of copy data management.”

But for the most part, large data storage firms have hesitated to embrace this business, in part because it poses a threat to their main activity of selling more storage space, said Ashish Nadkarni, a research director at IDC.

“This was never a technology problem,” Mr. Nadkarni said. “It was always a matter of, ‘O.K., so, if we bring this technology to market, it is going to mean less sales for us.’ ”

Mr. Ashutosh previously had success in a related business. Another company he founded, AppIQ, which made software to manage storage infrastructure, was sold to Hewlett-Packard for $300 million in 2005.

After a stint at H.P., he joined Greylock as a partner. The idea for Actifio came while he was analyzing trends in the field of enterprise software companies, he said.

The comparison to VMware, invoked by Actifio itself, is a complicated one. VMware has sought to reposition itself in recent years, in the face of increased competition and a changed technology landscape.

But Actifio does not expect to encounter a similar problem.

“I think we have tremendous patent protection here,” Mr. Goldstein, the North Bridge partner, said, “and a very large lead on the rest of the market.”


Speeding Up Flash Storage Via Software

September 5th, 2013

How to get the most out of flash storage is a subject of much research and innovation in the storage industry. One choice is to use software, an approach IBM has chosen with its new FlashCache Storage Accelerator (FCSA).

FCSA is server-hosted caching software for IBM’s System x servers, BladeCenter, and Flex System products. FCSA captures all disk read I/Os and copies the requested data to server-side flash drives. Additional access to this data then comes from server-side flash. Note that FCSA supports read-only cache. IBM uses a write-through cache approach where all write I/O passes directly through to primary storage.

FSCA integrates with IBM’s other flash products and can work with a mix of flash and HDDs. Although FCSA interacts directly with other IBM flash products, the backend disk arrays do not have to be IBM’s.

As the name implies, FCSA’s purpose is to accelerate the performance of flash (IBM claims up to 2.5X improvement). This is achieved through software algorithms that maximize flash as cache working in conjunction with hard disk drives.. According to IBM, no turning of data placement of hot data is needed as the software adapts to changing workloads.

[Check out some innovative storage technologies that were showcased at VMworld in "Finding New Ways To Boost Storage Performance."]

Of course, IBM’s FCSA is a proprietary system, but the technology provides some insight into the broader market and where it might be headed. Here are three key takeaways.

• The flash market is real: FCSA is part of the IBM Flash Ahead initiative, but other major vendors also are emphasizing the importance of flash. In addition, there are numerous very good flash storage architecture options available from smaller companies, and a number of them are doing quite well commercially. However, at some point, a market consolidation is likely to take place, and the major vendors are positioning themselves to benefit from this.

• Newer applications need flash-based performance: How much flash is enough? For overall storage portfolios where the majority of accumulated data is fixed content ( very little can be described as “hot”), a relatively small amount of storage needs to be flash. That is not always the case. For example, although traditional applications (such as OLTP) may very well benefit from higher speed to perform more transactions in the same period of time, newer applications and processes can also be drivers for flash-based performance. These include big data, VDI, taking advantage of even denser virtual server consolidation, and on-demand computing in cloud scale infrastructures. Thus, a software-based flash product, such as FCSA could prove beneficial.

• Software can help take more advantage of flash: Software has long been the not-so-secret ingredient in conjunction with cache technologies that improve storage performance. Traditional, controller-based storage array systems have also long taken advantage of software, especially caching algorithms, to get more out of the storage that the controller manages. Flash caching management software such as FCSA simply extends that concept, although in this case, the software is server-based rather than controller-based.

Mesabi Musings

Even if you are not a customer of a particular major IT vendor, you should pay attention when those vendors announce major products and initiatives because they may eventually impact the broader market. Such a case is true with IBM’s FlashCache Storage Accelerator. The use of software, such as FCSA, can significantly accelerate and boost the performance of flash. FCSA isn’t likely to be the only shoe to drop to illustrate this point, but IBM’s size and market position makes this announcement one that will impact both customers and competitors.


SSD-Agnostic Cache Software Accelerates Windows Server Storage Performance on NetApp Storage Systems

July 19th, 2013

sTec, Inc. (NASDAQ:STEC), a leading global provider of solid-state storage solutions, announced that sTec® EnhanceIO™ SSD Cache Software has been tested and validated by NetApp for integration with NetApp® storage systems in Windows Server environments. EnhanceIO is among the industry’s first solid-state drive (SSD)-agnostic caching software. This validation enables customers utilizing NetApp storage systems to have access to proven performance-enhancing caching software for their Data ONTAP® infrastructure. For specific configurations supported, please check NetApp’s Interoperability Matrix (IMT).

“Our compatible server caching partners are part of an ecosystem of tested and validated solutions that help to enhance the performance and predictability of mission-critical applications,” said Tim Russell, vice president, Data Lifecycle Ecosystem Group, NetApp. “Partner solutions, such as sTec’s EnhanceIO software for Windows Server, can extend the benefits of virtual storage tiering to the enterprise server level, improving application responsiveness and increasing overall system throughput.”

“sTec’s unwavering goal of accelerating applications in data centers and cloud-computing systems demands alignment of our enterprise-class solid-state storage solutions with those of fellow industry leaders such as NetApp,” said Zack Mihalis, vice president of product marketing and management, sTec. “Achieving validation for EnhanceIO helps assure that those applications realize maximum reliability, performance and efficiency in NetApp environments.”

EnhanceIO SSD Cache Software is designed to help users easily create, configure and analyze existing storage environments with cost-effective scalability. It provides non-disruptive, fast and consistent caching that greatly improves application performance while reducing latency with improved data integrity. The software includes many features that can all be accessed via a graphical user or command-line interface that also displays additional statistics and analytics to deliver increased productivity. EnhanceIO is ideal for database, “big data” and virtualization applications, where the software provides nonintrusive performance enhancement by fluidly integrating into existing storage infrastructures and increasing input/output (I/O) levels.

EnhanceIO was developed to simplify management of NetApp and other enterprise storage systems, and its functionality is winning fans. Due to the popularity of the software’s Profiler feature, that component is now also available separately for free and unlimited use. Profiler empowers IT managers to optimize storage by identifying a caching strategy for specific data center workloads, boosting performance and maximizing existing solid-state or rotating-disk storage hardware investments.


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