Brocade co-founder pushes 'SAN for the masses'

Believing that the current cost of storage area network (SAN) installations are too high to attract small businesses, Kumar Malavalli, co-founder of storage-switch provider Brocade Communications Systems Inc., has invested in what he calls an "ecosystem" of eight companies that are developing low-cost and high-performance SAN technologies with the avowed goal of "taking SAN to the masses."

The target price for a data security and recovery solution for disaster recovery for a three server configuration is US$100,000 according to Malavalli, who is currently an advisor to the chief executive officer and chairman of Brocade in San Jose, California.

Brocade already has an informal relationship with the group of companies in which Malavalli is investing, and its engineers are working with some of them, but the company has yet to formally adopt the SAN-to-the-masses business strategy, he said. The strategy, initially, is based on a low-price, high-volume business model targeted at small businesses.

Brocade already has an eight-port, entry level switch, called the Brocade Silkworm 3200, for small businesses that are moving from direct-attached storage (DAS) to SANs. There is still, however, an opportunity for Brocade to develop new cost-effective technologies for the large-volume, small-business market, Malavalli said.

"The data of a small bank in California is as important to it as the data of a Fortune 100 company," Malavalli said. "But the small-scale users are not using SANs, and although there are today a number of deployments of SANs worldwide, all of these are happening at Fortune 100 and 200 companies, and to an extent Fortune 300 companies." The high cost of SAN implementations is a key hurdle in the way of adoption of SANs by small businesses, and these costs include the high cost of hardware and software, large licensing fees for data backup and recovery software, and the cost for small businesses of running their own information technology departments, Malavalli added.

"To take SAN to the masses, over the next one or two years, we have to take care of the cost," said Malavalli. "Hardware and software costs have to come down by innovative design of the hardware and the software. We have put together a group of companies who are developing low cost solutions without sacrificing on performance, to focus on small businesses which is a large volume market." The initial target markets are India and China.

The companies in the ecosystem set up by Malavalli are addressing different aspects relating to the cost and performance of SAN deployments, training of personnel in user companies, and marketing. Some of the companies are, for instance, working on solutions for SAN automation, to remove the need for small businesses to have full-fledged IT departments for SANs.

"Each of these new entrants will be disruptive in either SAN technology or costing or marketing or sales or support," said Malavalli.

Except for Ontario-based Kasten Chase Applied Research Ltd., which acquired Karthika Technologies Inc, the other companies in Malavalli's "ecosystem" are still in the startup phase, and are not listed on stock exchanges. Alpine Technologies Inc in Dallas is developing an intelligent, low-cost storage subsystem, that uses low-cost serial ATA drives on the storage side, and Fibre Channel drives on the host side, while InterSAN Inc. in Scotts Valley, California, is working in the area of automated, policy-based provisioning.

A third company in the ecosystem, S.V. Systems in Milpitas, California, is developing an automated, real-time data protection and recovery solution for disaster recovery with built-in verification. Meanwhile, Next Generation Systems Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, and Cloverleaf Communications Inc. in Southborough, Massachusetts, are working on technologies for quality of service and the user defined of bandwidth on the network during a backup.

Companies in the ecosystem are also working in areas such as security and virtualization. In a SAN environment, virtualization technology pools together arrays from multiple storage vendors operating on different platforms, so that they can be seen from one host as a single storage pool. Aarohi Communications Inc. in San Jose, California, is designing a multiprotocol application storage processor to enable wire-speed fabric-based virtualization and data management.

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