Startup challenges EMC with e-mail archiving technology

Start-up Persist Technologies Inc. is releasing archiving and search software that it said uses digital certificates and commodity blade servers to address federal regulations governing the retention of e-mail messages by financial services firms.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Persist this week plans to announce the general availability of its AppStor technology, which can be combined with any brand of blade server to create an appliance designed to support secure e-mail archiving and instant retrieval of messages via the Internet.

Analysts said AppStor will compete head-to-head with EMC Corp.'s Centera fixed-data disk array, which uses software to create a unique 27-character identifier for every electronic document it stores, ensuring that the information can't be overwritten.

'Signing' E-mail

Persist officials said AppStor sits in front of e-mail servers and automatically assigns a digital certificate based on public-key infrastructure (PKI) technology to each message. The digital certificate is authenticated each time an end user retrieves a stored e-mail, and messages that are modified in any way receive a new PKI signature.

AppStor also works with WORM (write once, read many) storage devices, making it compliant with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules that require financial services firms to retain all e-mail, Persist said. In addition, the software can be used to archive electronic documents, images and audio files.

Lt. Col. Chuck Hoppe, information management officer for the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army, bought AppStor as an early user last August and installed it on a group of six Hewlett-Packard Co. blade servers at an Army base in Radford, Va.

The software is being used to manage an e-mail network for about 195 end users who typically don't delete any of their messages, Hoppe said. He added that if he had simply archived the e-mail on disk drives, it wouldn't be as easy to search for or retrieve the messages as it is with AppStor.

Persist's technology "has a very robust search capability," Hoppe said. End users can search an entire e-mail directory "by block, name, time or keyword," he noted. "I could be anyplace in the world, (but) if I can get to a Web browser, I can get to all of my e-mail."

AppStor is also being evaluated for possible use on two other military e-mail networks, including one that supports about 650 workers at the Pentagon, Hoppe said.

Steve Kenniston, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., said AppStor can easily be migrated into data centers as users move toward utility-based computing models built around commodity hardware. Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC offers excellent technology but will have to continue selling Centera as a stand-alone box, he said.

However, Centera is less expensive than AppStor. For example, EMC's new Centera Compliance Edition model is priced at US$148,000 with 4TB of usable storage space. AppStor sells for US$45,000 per terabyte of capacity without the blade server hardware, Persist said.

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