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Mystery storage startup sheds cloak, reveals $22m package

Dosh to 'leverage cloud-based management paradigms'. Argh

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Stealthy startup Exablox has just dropped its cloak and announced its existence to the storage world after amassing $22m in funding in two rounds. The start-up certainly has buzzword marketing down pat: it says it is "re-imagining storage" to solve "pain points". I don't know about you but I find myself in a pain point when I read this. Call for Hercule Poirot, Jack Reacher and Sherlock Holmes - we have a storage start-up mystery to solve.

The three founders are Tad Hunt, chief technology officer, Matthew Catino, VP business development and Frank Barrus, chief architect. The CEO is Douglas Brockett, previously at Sonicwall, bought by Dell in March 2012 and the company says it has an experienced team with backgrounds in Data Domain, Veritas, NetApp, Omneon, GreenPlum, Ocarina, and Bell Labs.

The press release says: "The funding will be used to drive product development, expand industry partnerships, and deliver on the company’s vision to enable organisations of all sizes to manage, protect, and access the information critical to their businesses." See what I mean? It tells us nothing.

Exablox says it can enable businesses to avoid "runaway costs, complicated installation, cumbersome management, and lack of data security" that are characteristic of current storage products. It says it's developing "cloud-managed scale-out storage [product] for businesses’ … unstructured data" - so files then. The term "cloud-managed" is an odd one. Is the system management in the cloud? Are the scale-out nodes in the cloud? We can't tell yet.

The company's release notes that generally-used server file systems are relatively dumb and not distributed, and adds: "SANs share storage arrays and network components, but files and even volumes are not shared. Traditional NAS that does not use distributed file systems often encounter scalability issues." So it's all about files and a distributed file system is involved.

Another clue pointing in this direction comes from an investor quote. Matthew Howard, a general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, said: "The NAS storage market is expected to grow to more than $12bn by 2016 and our firm has evaluated several opportunities in this sector. Exablox stands out because it takes a differentiated approach for companies struggling to manage valuable unstructured data– an approach that has already shown early traction with customer and partner validation.”

Chris Rust, a partner at US Venture Partners, said it was about both hardware and software and scalability: “Exablox is building a unique combination of hardware and software capabilities that will prove essential for businesses to easily manage their data and protect their business. We believe Exablox’s scalable storage solution will quickly gain traction in the market, and we are delighted to join the Exablox team.”

Exablox technology looks to be about NAS hardware and software targeted at unstructured data with a distributed file system involved and a cloud-angle. We can maybe think the name gives us another clue: Exa as in exabytes and "blox" as in blocks or units of storage, nodes perhaps. A person familiar with the company in 2011 told us that it was called Oneblox when it was founded though, being renamed as Exablox last year. We understand it is more or less a competitor for Oracle's Sun ZFS storage systems and involves:

  • More robust file system than ZFS
  • Erasure coding rather than RAID protection against disk and data loss
  • Write-once-read-many (WORM) functionality
  • Low energy consumption, indicating that spin-down disks may be involved
  • File-sharing protocol access via NFS and CIFS
  • CDMI access and support
  • Support for Linux, Windows and Mac clients
  • Scale-out design
  • Storing 30 to 100 TB of user data
  • Possible cloud gateway functionality.

An Exablox spokesperson said the system would "integrate with the cloud ... be simple and intuitive to manage [and] easily scale, over time, both performance and storage capacity without application downtime or reconfiguration." Stored data will be protected "from failures or data corruption" and it will be "easily recoverable when needed" - suggesting it is not locally on-line with the accessing users. If it were there would be no need at all to state this. Therefore we deduce, Sherlock, that Exablox storage will be remote from the accessing users and needs some technology to ensure it will be "easily recoverable when needed."

We are told Exablox storage will compete with products from EMC and NetApp, and the company claims: "Leveraging a cloud-based management paradigm we’re able to deliver an incredibly easy to use experience with enterprise-level features that removes the barriers of price, scalability, and complexity. It let’s companies get back to running their business."

Perhaps we should think of something like a Nexenta-type system in the cloud, with accessing storage gateways providing the NAS and CDMI support. We imagine that existing clouds, like Amazon and Azure, could be used for the storage back-end - $22m is nowhere near enough to set up its own cloud data centres - and Exablox is producing a cloud storage gateway appliance for customers with some kind of caching functionality to speed data access. We'd also slip deduplication in there too, to reduce the amount of data travelling to and from the cloud.

The company employs 26 people - enjoy the webpage mouseover effects - and its product is in beta test. El Reg thinks we can expect a product announcement around mid-2013. ®

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