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Alacritech wakes up from coma with speedy network file access

Me-too competition for Avere

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Boucher is back. Alacritech, a TCP/IP acceleration technology licence fee stream company, has returned to building products with an appliance-accelerating access to network-attached storage (NAS) filers and 'aving a go at Avere.

Alacritech was started up in 1997 by Larry Boucher, who is still its CEO. Boucher also founded Adaptec and NAS pioneer Auspex, and is a SCSI standard author. Alacritech devised acceleration technology to make TCP/IP links go faster and implemented this as an offload engine (TOE) for server Ethernet network interface cards (NICs). It has been receiving revenue from Microsoft – which uses this IP – since 2005, when Microsoft settled a legal dispute over its use in Vista. Emulex also licenses its TOE IP.

Since 2005, Alacritech has apparently been in hibernation, living off IP licensing fees and not doing a lot.Now it has sort of burst back into the storage product scene via a Computerworld briefing.

The nuts and bolts of the thing is the production of a file access accelerator box, the ANX 1500, fitted with both solid state drives (SSDs) and disk drives. It also has firmware which caches v3 NFS metadata and data. This accelerates NFS operations by having the most frequently-accessed NFS data and metadata in fast-access flash. We're told that a 1500 with 4TB of flash can run at 120,000 NFS operations/sec and costs around $110,000: less than a dollar per op.

A Taneja Group analyst, Jeff Boles, reckons the ANX could run a whole lot more NFS OPS, as its CPU is so lightly loaded currently – 10 per cent loading with a 500,000 NFS OPS load was quoted.

The more or less leader in the NAS acceleration space is Avere, founded by Ron Bianchini, a Spinnaker veteran, with a 2009 product launch. It uses four tiers of storage – DRAM, NVRAM, NAND and SAS disk drives – in its FXT 2300, 2500 and 2700 (all solid state) systems and tailors their use to different I/O caching of random, sequential, short and long NFS reads and writes. It accelerates both NFS v3 and CIFS access. FXT nodes can be clustered for scale-out growth.

On launch the FXT 2500, without a flash storage tier, was rated at 80,000 (NFS) read operations/second. Flash was added in January 2010. Avere has a SPECsfs2008 benchmark of 131,591 ops/sec, needing just 72 disks on the backend NAS filer resource – far fewer than, for example, the 336 needed by a NetApp FAS6060, which achieved 120,011 ops/sec.

Base FXT 2300 pricing started at $52,500 in 2009. Sony Pictures Imageworks front-ended Isilon filers with Avere's FXT boxes in March last year. Avere added NFS v4 support and data striping across FXT cluster nodes with an FXT O/S upgrade in October 2010.

AXT development was funded with $34m of VC funding; the IP licence revenue streams must have been insufficient. Alacritech is still in a kind of stealth mode with its AXT product; the website is not operational and the product hasn't formally been launched yet. It is being positioned as providing more NFS bangs for fewer bucks, and enabling NFS data to be stored on arrays delivering AXT-class performance up to a fifth of their current size. That would mean the FAS6060 array above would need 67 drives instead of the 72 needed with an FXT front-end.

Boucher said the AXT 2500 can: "deliver unmatched price/performance, while eliminating NAS sprawl.”

Alacritech also claims: "The ANX 1500 is the first and only storage product to materially accelerate the performance of an existing storage network without requiring enterprises to replace their existing infrastructure or surrender ownership of mission-critical data" That would appear to be a mis-statement as Avere does pretty much the same thing.

Ironically, Sony Pictures Imageworks is beta-testing the ANX box and seems keen on it. Steve Kowalski, Sony Imageworks' Executive Director of Systems Engineering, said: "Our testing to date confirms that metadata caching performance on the Alacritech ANX 1500 is quite powerful. Based upon our results, the ANX 1500 has the potential to open up both new and interesting economies of scale.”

We imagine Avere will be working hard on a response.

Entry-level ANX 1500 pricing starts at $70,000, but you can't buy one yet. We expect a formal launch later this year. ®

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