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Acopia promises to give you a good look at a very broad NAS

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The last thing the folks at Acopia Networks said to us was, "Be nice." So, of course, we'll have to be mean as hell.

Only it's hard to eviscerate a storage and networking virtualization start-up. You can hardly ever tell exactly what these companies do. Their customers, although few, tend to love the product in question. And there's a whole bunch of companies floating around that seem to do very similar things, which would be bad if it didn't validate the market.

Acopia fits into that series of broad generalizations well.

The company makes a switch for linking numerous NAS (network attached storage) systems from the likes of NetApp and EMC. Using proprietary software, Acopia can create a single file system that stretches across all of these NAS boxes and creates a global namespace - something all the big boys are trying to do.

It boasts big name customers such as Merrill Lynch and Warner Music Group that just worship its products. These guys use Acopia's gear to tie together huge numbers of systems and to wring better performance out of each box. (You probably know this already though because Acopia has been pointing to the same two customers during presentations since at least June of 2004, which makes one curious to say the least.)

In addition, Acopia dukes it out with other NAS start-ups NeoPath Networks, NuView and Rainfinity, which was purchased by EMC in August. It's hard to say how accurate customer counts from any of these vendors are, but analysts seem to give the edge to NuView and Rainfinity - both of which are a couple years older than Acopia.

The basics

Having proven that Acopia fits the storage start-up mold, we should probably go ahead and tell you a bit more about what they do and how they do it.

Acopia sells three flavors of its ARX switches. On the low-end is the ARX500 "departmental switch," which is a 1U box that can handle close to 100MB/sec of data and manage more than 120m files. In the midrange sits the ARX1000 - a 2U box capable of 400MB/sec data rates and managing up to 300m files. On the high-end is the 13U monster ARX6000, which can pump data at 2GB/sec and manage more than 1bn files.

The company reckons that customers will typically pay $200,000 for a deployment, including two of the Acopia systems for redundancy. Larger configurations can hit $600,000 or even over $1m, said Joe Wisniewski. product marketing manager at Acopia.

Customers will plug the Acopia switches into their existing data centers and use the boxes to virtualize CIFS and NFS file systems. The nice bit about the Acopia technology is that customers can leave their NAS hardware up and running when first installing the gear. In addition, administrators can increase file system sizes or move a file system from one NAS box to another without shutting down any end user services.

"You can do things like moving data off filers onto cheaper storage or setting up more complex tiered storage systems," Wisniewski said. "All this happens without end users ever knowing the data was migrated."

So far, customers have tended to use the Acopia gear to virtualize large pools of NetApp and EMC systems. Increasingly, however, the company says that customers are looking to use the technology for heterogeneous networks as well.

Acopia faces competition from the other start-ups as well as larger players such as EMC, IBM and even Cisco that all have broad virtualization aspirations. The debate rages on as to whether or not servers, storage boxes or switches will ultimately control most of the virtualization functions.

In the meantime, Acopia can help out customers with NAS management disasters on their hands. The company has vowed to make its management software better and to add more sophisticated tools for keeping track of large numbers of systems - all of which sounds lovely and nice.

Two of Acopia's staffers chatted with us this week but didn't seem to know thing one about El Reg. As mentioned, asking us to be nice is typically a recipe for total disaster. Luckily for the marketing drones, we have it on high authority that members of the Acopia engineering staff rely on El Reg for their daily information dose. As usual, the engineers have saved the day. ®

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