StoneFly breeds storage virtualization appliance

Start-up StoneFly Networks has combined data pooling and an emerging IP storage standard into storage appliances, which it introduced last week. The storage appliances are best used in midsize businesses and workgroups, departments and branch offices of large enterprise businesses, where skilled IT talent is scarce and an inexpensive, easy-to-install and implement appliance is necessary, the company claims.

StoneFly was founded in April 2000 to develop a carrier-class multiprotocol switch. When the dot-com and service provider market crashed, StoneFly took its intellectual property and made a product for the opposite end of the spectrum. They developed what they claim, is an easily implemented iSCSI virtualization appliance that lets network managers pool direct-attached, as well as Fibre Channel storage arrays and storage-area network (SAN) data, so it can be managed more easily and better utilized.

Analysts are excited by the prospects for StoneFly's appliance.

"StoneFly might have the missing link to turn on iSCSI adoption," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group Inc. "Its appliances allow iSCSI to really be used. The StoneFly Concentrators have all the big time features of SANs, but [are priced] for the masses."

The StoneFly Concentrators use iSCSI to connect parallel SCSI storage devices or Fibre Channel arrays to multiple Windows NT/2000, Linux or Unix servers. They come in two models, the i1000SC and i1500FS. Both are built on Intel Pentium 4 processors.

Each rack-mountable concentrator is 1U (1.75-inches) high. The i1000SC has three parallel SCSI ports and can connect to up to 45 SCSI storage devices; the i1500FS with one parallel SCSI and one Fibre Channel port can connect to 15 SCSI devices and multiple Fibre Channel devices. In addition, the i1500FS has dual hot-swappable power supplies and includes the ability to mirror the operating system and metadata for fault-tolerance.

The software includes a logical volume manager, which manages storage assets and gathers data into a common pool for distribution over the IP network.

The StoneFly software uses metadata to map physical storage into a logical pool of data. A relational database acts as a repository for the metadata and is used to track the physical locations of the data on the disk. The storage concentrators are managed from a Web-based interface.

Device failover for fault-tolerance will be available as early as this fall. Data replication and snapshot back-up capability will follow.

StoneFly is not the only company in the nascent virtualization market. Almost every other storage vendor is interested in data pooling. Several, such as DataCore Software Corp. and FalconStor Software Inc., are already shipping products. Others, like Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. are working on products, which they claim they will introduce this year. StoneFly claims its advantage over these other products is the cost of its appliances and their ease of implementation.

The company's name comes from one of the founders of StoneFly, a fly fisherman, who has been known to use flies that look like the Stonefly nymphs that live in clear pools and feast on vegetation or smaller invertabrates. It has been funded for over $22 million by Crescendo Ventures, El Dorado Ventures, Intel Capital and Palomar Ventures. The company has 100 employees.

The StoneFly Storage Concentrator i1000SC is US$8,000; the i1500FS is $10,000. Both are available now.