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A startup called Pancetera has announced a virtual appliance that can reduce virtual machine backup I/O load by up to 80 per cent, and lets sysadmins move virtual machine files as easily as browsing a Windows network drive.

The idea is that this Unite appliance treats virtual machines (VMs) as files in a single virtual filesystem and presents them as such, in directories, instead of them being on different ESX hosts and different types and makes of storage.

Sysadmins mount the Unite filesystem as either a CIFS share or NFS mount and can then perform backup, replication and migration using standard filesystem tools and Unite. It is a single virtual NAS (network-attached storage) system containing all your VMs from across the data centre.

You can use existing backup software, for example, and backup VMs through the Unite appliance because the backup app' "sees" files and directories through the Unite virtual appliance. Pancetera says there is no need for backup agents to run in each VM, meaning saved license costs. Unite has SmartRead and SmartView components.

This point was supported by an early customer, Logan Lemming, the IT director for the El Dorado County Office of Education, who said: "Using virtualisation technology... dropped an iron curtain around my storage, not allowing me to interact with my VM file systems, and forcing me to use expensive and complex agent-based backup software.

"Pancetera Unite blows that whole paradigm away. I am no longer handcuffed to a certain storage or backup vendor to maintain the integrity of my virtual infrastructure. Pancetera Unite is the silver bullet that we in the virtualisation world have been waiting for," Lemming gushed.

SmartView discovers and presents all the VMs in your data centre as being resident in a synthesised NAS file system. All the VMS appear in it, whether they are powered down, suspended, or running, and are ordered by host in a folder structure. Pancetera says it is updated when you create, delete, migrate or vMotion a VM so that you can always see your full environment.

SmartRead is VM component-aware. It presents a VM as a file to a backup or replication application but only includes, Pancetera says, the data actually in use in the VM and not other data gathered in its history but no longer used. This is claimed to improve I/O efficiency when a VM is backed up, migrated or replicated by between 10 and 80 per cent.

Pancetera says it also presents smaller amounts of data to deduplication targets and WAN accelerators, increasing their speed.

The company claims that moving an 8GB VM with Windows 2003 across a 10Mbit/s network link took a little over two hours. This was lowered to one hour and 20 minutes with a WAN accelerator at both ends of the link, and then to 13 minutes by adding in Pancetera Unite and having the move done through the Unite interface and using SmartRead.

This was not a VMotion move of a running VM. Instead it was a simulation of an off-site replication for a standby or backup copy. Pacetera says: "With Pancetera, customers can use standard file system replication tools and techniques to move running virtual machines to new targets, without disturbing the running virtual machine, whether on the LAN or across the WAN. We enable this use case without scripting."

The company, founded by ex-Data Domain and Legato executives, has come out of stealthy development, announcing a $5m funding round and appointing Henrik Rosendahl as its CEO.

The company has gained product validation from CommVault, Riverbed, Tivoli, TSANet, Symantec, and is a VMware Technology Alliance Partner.

If the claims and customer comment above are generally applicable, it looks like a hot company with a hot product. ®

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