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Overland to cluster SnapServers

Storage company snaps up Maxiscale assets

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Overland Storage aims to cluster its SnapServers together, using assets it is buying from Maxiscale. This means customers will soon be able to grow SnapServer storage seamlessly to 10PB-plus levels.

MaxiScale, which emerged from stealth-mode in September 2009, took in some $25m of funding, using the cash to develop its FLEX software platform to serve billions of files from hundreds of commodity file servers. It was based on a Peer Set architecture that could scale to thousands of nodes, storing hundreds of petabytes of data, functioning inside a single global name space with distributed metadata.

FLEX was positioned as being great technology for use in private and public clouds, and high-performance computing, as it could respond to unpredictable demand patterns. MaxiScale was headed by co-founder Gianluca Rattazzi and head-quartered in Sunnyvale. Francesco Lacapra was the other founder and was the company's chief technology officer (CTO) and a VP.

There are links between these two and Overland's VP of engineering and CTO, Geoff Barrall. He founded enterprise NAS vendor BlueArc, then Data Robotics, and joined Overland in March this year.

Ratazzi was previously CEO and chairman at BlueArc. Lacapra also worked at BlueArc, as software development director from 2001 to 2003. Both Ratazza and Lacapra's time at BlueArc coincided with Barrall's time at the company.

Although its website is still up, activity on its Facebook page stopped in May. Now, after little over a year of activity, it has given up operations, with Overland buying its assets, intellectual property and certain members of its engineering team. The terms of the deal are not being released. However, it looks like a distress deal and so is likely to be less than $25m. Raising money for late-stage startups is currently hard to accomplish.

Lacapra is not joining Overland and neither is Ratazzi, who moved on to a new position as a director of eASIC, a fabless semiconductor company, in May this year. That date probably indicates the time when MaxiScale gave up the idea of continuing as a viable business. He also is the exec chairman of Envivio, a data distribution company.

MaxiScale technology is currently being integrated into Overland's product portfolio. Barrall said: "Business adoption of Overland's SnapServer line of data storage arrays is already strong ... The logical next step for us is to create a clustered scalable NAS (network-attached storage) forming a local cloud of storage." He continued: "Maxiscale's architecture will provide ... the ability to scale hundreds of SnapServers into one unified pool of storage."

Overland Storage is recovering from mis-steps in the data protection market, and bought the SnapServer business from Adaptec in 2008.

SnapServers are low-end to mid-range NAS products that also provide iSCSI SAN storage. The MaxiScale technology buy confirms the centrality of the technology to Overland's strategy. Customers needing to scale their SnapServers will be able to add new boxes alongside the existing ones and have them all operate as a single logical super SnapServer with the potential to store tens of petabytes of data, if not more. Isilon writ and priced small perhaps.

We could think of the SnapServers as clustered NAS heads talking to storage bricks, enclosures with arrays of hard disk drives inside them.

There is an obvious potential for data protection by distributing copies of files or parts of them within a Snap cluster. The FLEX architecture does that, and Data Robotics' Drobo product has a BeyondRAID technology that it does it at sub-file level across the disk drives in its enclosure. We might also expect SnapServer cluster nodes, when such clustering is delivered, to embrace different capacity SnapServers.

Barral said that Overland would provide a MaxiScale client product for customers who wanted to store data in a SnapServer cluster but without sharing it in the NAS sense. He mentioned Exchange data as being characteristic of this, with the application having direct access to it via the client.

With unstructured data growth universally forecast to grow strongly for the foreseeable future, there is much interest in clustered filer technology. NetApp has its ONTAP 8 product providing the functionality, and Dell bought Exanet for its filer clustering IP in February.

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said: "Overland scored with this deal. MaxiScale had some awesome technology. I'm glad it will finally be able to see the light of day."

Asked about deduplication, Barrall said it was not part of the MaxiScale announcement, but he could see its usefulness whereSnapServers were used to store backup data: "I'm interested in it and it's part of the roadmap."

The first clustered SnapServer products may appear next year. ®

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