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LeftHand brews up IP SAN software

Self-healing storage is thinner than thin

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LeftHand Networks, the storage company that's named after a brewery*, said the new version of SANiQ - its iSCSI SAN software - includes self-healing capabilities and what it called next-generation thin provisioning.

SANiQ version 7, which is released today, is also available in two new packages aimed at specific needs, one for high availability and disaster recovery that's capable of replicating to a remote site, and another with additional Windows-specific features such as VSS snapshot support, said product manager Ben Bolles.

He said the new thin provisioning software automates the volume set-up process and can improve capacity utilisation from around 80 per cent to 97 per cent.

Built on top of storage virtualisation technology, thin provisioning allocates physical disk space to a logical volume only when it is actually needed to store data, so if a volume that's nominally 100GB contains just 50GB of data, it only occupies 50GB on disk.

LeftHand said 80 per cent of its users use already thin provisioning explicitly when creating volumes, but that 100 per cent also use it implicitly as it is an essential part of SANiQ's snapshot capability.

Thin provisioning's aim is to reduce wasted space: the problem, according to Bolles, is that most schemes allocate capacity in relatively large chunks, so there is always disk space that is allocated but unused. He said the new LeftHand software uses much more granular allocation - 128MB at a time - so the allocated capacity more closely tracks the occupied capacity.

"There's two things other vendors struggle with," he claimed. "One is how big the chunks can be, because of the legacy of LUNs, volumes, etc. The second is how well the algorithm is integrated into the other feature, because for most it's an add-on. For us, it's not an after-thought."

The higher utilisation means "people can over-provision the SAN by a factor of two and still be in the safe zone", he continued.

Bolles added that SANiQ 7's self-healing feature works in the background to automatically verify every block on the SAN once a month, copying data from the replica - all data is replicated within the system and transparently to the users - if it finds an error.

"With SATA drives today, the probability is one read error for every 10TB of data read," he said. "Statistically, our self-healing capability means you're less likely to hit an error while you're rebuilding the array after a disk failure."

Although it is actually a software developer - and you can buy SANiQ on its own if you want - LeftHand positions itself as a SAN vendor. Its reseller partners sell complete IP SANs, based on HP or IBM servers and standard RAID arrays, and compete with the likes of EqualLogic, Compellent, 3PAR and even EMC, claimed LeftHand marketing veep John Fanelli.

He said that, like other storage vendors who offer thin provisioning and storage virtualisation, LeftHand is finding increased synergy with virtual server technology such as VMware.

"We see our customers reinventing themselves and their data centres over the next 12 to 18 months, especially with server consolidation virtualisation, so they can think about delivering IT as a service," he said.

LeftHand is also expanding its reach in Europe. It already has its EMEA headquarters in the UK, headed by Doug Rich, ex of OuterBay, and former Quantum marketeer Henrik Hansen. Offices in the Netherlands and Scandinavia are next on the schedule, said Rich, with others to follow, including Germany, France, Italy, and South Africa.

*Its founders named their new storage company over a few beers in the brewery's tap room. The beer is quite excellent, by the way. ®

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