LeftHand joins NAS, SAN data

LeftHand Networks Inc. is continuing the traditions of its namesake, Chief Niwot (Lefthand) of the Arapaho, who served as a negotiator and English interpreter for settlers drawn to Colorado in 1859 by gold strikes in Boulder Canyon.

The company is making a hardware device that ties storage-area networks (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) into a single, harmonious network.

LeftHand's product, codenamed Sawtooth, is a hybrid device that blends the file-oriented data common to NAS devices and the block-oriented database, data warehousing or transaction data residing on SANs. The idea is that if one device on one system fails or becomes overloaded, other devices can take over for it. Storage can be dynamically reassigned from server to server.

Even though the company's product connects to the network with an Ethernet connection, it differs from NAS products. In traditional NAS, a CPU connects to the network via an Ethernet adapter. Several controllers connect to the CPU and then to multiple disk drives. Each request for data flows through the single CPU in a stepwise fashion, causing bottlenecks and network congestion, LeftHand officials say.

In LeftHand's configuration, four inexpensive, hot-swappable Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) or UltraATA disk drives connect to a single CPU to create a total capacity per module of 480G bytes. Modules, consisting of the CPU and drives, can be distributed anywhere on the network, even divided across geographically distant networks. Each module can be clustered with the others for fault tolerance.

The disk capacity of each drive also can be joined into a common pool for sharing across the network or be used individually by the servers assigned to the device. Data can be mirrored or striped between drives and modules for fault-tolerance, data availability or disaster recovery.

"The company's product supports either file or block data on each module, not both concurrently," says Dan Tanner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. "They can go a long way toward eliminating CPU bottlenecks, while virtualizing the network data."

The approach LeftHand has adopted uses the increasing speed of Gigabit Ethernet and the clustering and parallel storage features of supercomputing to make a device that LeftHand founder and CTO John Spiers says is easy-to-manage and "doesn't cost an arm and a leg."

Each module has two connections - a fiber-optic or copper Gigabit Ethernet link for connecting to the network and a 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet link for management or backing up data. The NAS will run Windows NT and 2000, Linux and Unix.

LeftHand says its chief competitors are EMC and Network Appliance and it contends with a variety of vendors who make NAS/SAN convergence devices, IP storage devices and virtualization software.

LeftHand's Network Unified Storage device will ship in the US in September, starting at less than $15,000.