Storage Startups Gathering Steam

A gang of new companies is readying hardware, software and services that will make it easier for customers to manage and access storage resources across corporate networks.

With names like 3ware, Crag Technologies and DataCore, the firms will roll out products ranging from Windows NT-based SANs-in-a-can to storage management tools and Fibre Channel devices.

The companies are readying products meant to fill the gaps left by first-generation storage-area network (SAN) and network storage vendors, including Brocade Communications, Crossroads Systems and Gadzoox.

SANs remove storage resources from the confines of individual servers and support the resources on high-speed Fibre Channel networks free of other LAN traffic. Network-attached storage is a different approach that involves directly connecting storage resources to LANs rather than servers.

Mark Ferelli, an analyst at market research firm Strategic Research in Santa Barbara, California, says the evolution of storage from the server bus to the network is opening opportunities for many new companies and products. By 2000, the SAN arena is expected to be five times bigger than last year's US$3.5 billion market, Strategic Research says.

Given the outlook for network storage, venture capital firms such as Dynafund Ventures in Los Angeles are on the lookout for new companies with interesting twists on the technology. Dynafund General Partner Denny Ko, an investor in SAN switch maker Gadzoox and newcomer Troika Networks, says he has $50 million in hand for new storage ventures.

Among the new companies is DataCore Software Corp., which is developing Windows NT software that will run on a server that sits between a company's file servers and storage resources, such as physical disks, RAID subsystems and conventional controllers.

DataCore's storage domain server will manage file server access to storage systems as well as provide authentication services. In addition, the software will cache frequently used data so it will be readily available to network users.

The product will be designed to work with any vendor's storage technology and will be positioned by DataCore as a low-cost alternative to high-end storage management systems from the likes of EMC.

Initially, DataCore will deliver an OEM version of the company's software, code-named Sonata. Next year, a version code-named Symphony will be shipped to systems integrators.

Newcomer Crag Technologies is readying NT-based SANs-in-a-can consisting of storage, server, adapter card and management software components. The company, led by former Ridge Technology executives who are experienced in RAID development and storage management, will focus on making SANs easy to set up for small and mid-size businesses.

Crag's first product will be the CT 3000, an external RAID subsystem in a large-density enclosure. The company will also deliver Java-based software, called Perspective, for managing storage systems from Crag and others.

SAN Solutions in Incline Village, Nevada, will also tackle SAN management.

The company, founded by former MountainGate executive Henry Aine, will offer a software package, code-named Turquoise. The product looks at storage, hub, switch and host bus adapter device statistics, faults and activity, much as HP OpenView examines enterprise network gear. Turquoise will be based on the Common Information Model specification, which defines a standard way to represent management information.

The software will primarily be targeted at small and mid-size businesses.

Other network storage newcomers to look out for include:

-- 3ware in San Jose, which is set on delivering Fibre Channel SAN products that small businesses can afford. "We don't see Fibre Channel presently creating a solution outside the glass houses [of large companies]," says Peter Herz, 3ware's CEO and president. "We're bringing the performance promises of Fibre Channel into the small and mid-size office at completely different price points." The company declined to reveal pricing information.

-- Troika Networks in Westlake Village, California, is keeping mum on its products, which will be designed to speed SANs. The company has been cooking up its Fibre Channel hardware and related software for about two years, and is expected to release the software about mid-year, sources say.

-- Medusa Labs in Georgetown, Texas, performs Fibre Channel and SCSI product testing and training for users, such as Chase Manhattan Bank, and vendors, such as Gadzoox and Crossroads Systems. For example, Chase has stipulated that products must go through testing at Medusa before they will be considered for the SANs Chase will roll out late this year.

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