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IP SANs for Video Storage
Posted Jan 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

You'd expect a provider of Storage Area Network (SAN) technology like StoneFly Networks, Inc. to exhibit at the usual data storage trade shows like Storage Networking World, but what was the company doing in Pasadena at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) in October?

They were "scoping out the market," according to StoneFly president and CEO Allen Yuhas, who firmly believes that the video production industry will eventually be one of his company's best vertical markets. That's because he also firmly believes that his company has a lot to offer this market. He says his company's technology solution for the storage of general data will also prove an effective solution for the specific application of storing digital video.

StoneFly's secret weapon for digital video storage is called the Storage Concentrator. These appliances take an IP-based approach to storage area networking, and by doing so, promise to save customers lots of money. IP (Internet Protocol) Storage, is a method of moving blocks of data, using IP as the transport layer, usually over Ethernet. Since most American companies already have Ethernet networks in place, they can take advantage of these StoneFly Storage Concentrators without the need for expensive network equipment upgrades. Essentially, then, Storage Concentrators are IP SAN appliances that enable companies to quickly and easily turn an IP network into a storage network.

And the secret weapon behind the Storage Concentrator (the secret weapon's secret weapon) is the emerging standard known as iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface). iSCSI is a protocol for establishing and managing connections between IP-based storage devices, hosts, and clients. Essentially, it allows people to remotely control SCSI devices over an IP network. A mere pipe dream alternative to Fibre Channel SAN sprawl when Adaptec began trumpeting it in 1999, today, the iSCSI protocol is being standardized through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

iSCSI represents a change in direction for storage attachment to servers and SANs, says Yuhas, and it promises to change the public's assumptions about the deployment of storage. "Fibre Channel SANs, which are the predominant technology today, have a downside," says Yuhas. "They are high in cost and require technical experts to install and implement them. And they are geared more toward a data center environment. In short, they are high in cost and high in complexity. In contrast, our Storage Concentrators are plug-and-play and provide nearly the same functionality at one-tenth the cost."

Storage Concentrators give users a new alternative in storage networking, says Yuhas. The Storage Concentrators add intelligent block-level logical volume management to existing IP networks to pool existing and new storage assets, thus providing more efficient utilization, streamlined management, and rapid deployment and reconfiguration of storage. And SAN-based backup and restore times are reduced.

And unlike other offerings on the market today, Storage Concentrators provide in-band iSCSI block-level storage pooling to enable customers to access storage without the need to know where the devices are located on the network, or how they are configured. Through effective storage pooling, Storage Concentrators deliver virtual volumes to hosts connected over industry-standard Ethernet networks without the need for host-based agents or a separate metadata out-of-band storage management device.

Using a patent-pending storage networking architecture called StoneFusion, StoneFly Storage Concentrators employ virtualization to provide a storage-mapping layer between the physical storage volumes and server requests. Storage Concentrators ensure data integrity through an embedded relational database that keeps track of physical data locations. This gives the network more intelligence and supplies non-disruptive online storage management, including automated consolidation of free storage space to maximize physical storage resources.

Storage Concentrators feature an HTML-based GUI that allows administrators to easily manage storage operations, including controlling distributed Storage Concentrators, centrally and securely from anywhere on the Internet. StoneFly's i1000 and i1500 Storage Concentrators are priced at $7,995 and $9,995 respectively. The higher-level i1500 model adds advanced features, including dual hot-swappable power supplies and RAID mirroring of the OS and metadata.

One current satisfied StoneFly customer is Gary Davis, a system analyst for HM Electronics. "We were running multiple application servers using Computer Associates for backup and needed a way to easily consolidate our tape and disk backups," says Davis. "StoneFly's Storage Concentrators are truly plug-and-play. We had a full functioning IP SAN in minutes, utilizing the graphical user interface. We've been able to reduce our backup and restore times using disk-to-disk technology and extend the life and productivity of our servers."

Another client is Scott Brehm, manager, Information Technology for Jaycor. "StoneFly's Storage Concentrators were very easy to install and we've found that its logical volume manager and easy-to-use GUI has enabled us to quickly reconfigure our storage assets to enable better performance without having to move drives around," says Brehm. "We're also seeing faster backup and restore times by being able to back up to a virtual iSCSI disk."

StoneFly Execs Size Up the Market
Of course, the video production industry isn't the only vertical market StoneFly is pursuing. They'll also be targeting the usual suspects for data storage providers: insurance, medical, financial services, retail, and education. The company thinks it will find clients among businesses that have yet to take advantage of SANs, and that's a big group—as much as 80% of all U. S. businesses, according to some estimates. More specifically, StoneFly is targeting small and mid-tier enterprises with multiple servers and storage investments of 500GB or more, who are currently inefficiently utilizing their existing storage.

StoneFly's top executive Allen Yuhas is bullish about the IP SAN market, and he cites Gartner Group predictions that it will be a multibillion dollar market by 2006. "What's really going to drive IP SAN adoption is the new Serial ATA technology," says Yuhas. These new cheap, high capacity drives will drastically lower storage costs, says Yuhas, who predicts that within a year, data storage costs on magnetic hard drives will fall to one-quarter of a cent per megabyte. "That means that for $10,000, you'll be able to get 4 terabytes of storage," he says. "This technology [Serial ATA] will be great for video and media businesses where there's not a lot of I/O—they just need a lot of capacity for storage."

Cheaper networked magnetic storage will also impact video editing facilities, says StoneFly chief technology officer Bill Huber. "In video editing, cost per megabyte is phenomenally important," he says. "Editors want all the online bandwidth they can get."

Huber also thinks that the combination of inexpensive Serial ATA drives and StoneFly IP SANs will change the way video editors and producers think about storage. And it will probably change the way they work. "Most editors use big hard drives with no protection. They work with directly-attached local storage all day long, only backing up on RAIDs at the end of the day. That means a whole day's work is at risk," he says. But once editors see how economical and easy it can be to back up their work, they'll do it more often, says Huber. They'll no longer need to back up to tape, but will instead be able to back up from disk to disk, which will be a huge time saver. "They'll be able to take advantage of nearline storage," says Huber.

Huber also says that IP SANs will help video production workgroups better manage their workflow. "With a Storage Concentrator, you are able to carve off storage and tie it to a specific server," he says. "You can give one group of editors access to the same virtual drive, while giving another group access to another virtual drive, for example." This ability to assign and control access will also be valuable to media organizations concerned about piracy and asset security, since access becomes a two-way street—something that can be denied as well as granted.

Huber defines StoneFly's ideal video client as "any video facility with four to five users/editors, 5 to 10 servers, and 500GB or up." He says his company is targeting "SME accounts" and video/media departments in large companies.

One particularly promising niche market that StoneFly is pursuing is Las Vegas casinos, says Yuhas. Casinos use hundreds of security cameras to capture footage all day long, and as policy, usually save footage for two months. This often results in hundreds of terabytes of digital video. Yuhas believes that the combination of StoneFly's Storage Concentrator-based IP SANs with SATA drive-based RAIDs could drastically reduce casinos' operational costs. Again, the key will be replacing expensive online storage with a less-expensive nearline solution.

"Our new IP SAN appliances can be easily deployed to offer organizations a level of functionality normally associated with storage systems costing far more," says Yuhas. "For environments working with over-sized video files, this solution ensures efficient storage usage, improved administrative productivity, and reduced network complexity."
—Mark Fritz

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