Betting on top storage speed

Intransa steers their boat toward performance intensive SAN applications

Some areas of the storage market are crowded with too many similar products. Think, for example, of clustered IP SANs -- it's something of a niche segment, but it's vibrant with competing solutions from vendors like EqualLogic, Intransa, and LeftHand Networks.

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We weren't able to include an evaluation of Intransa gear in the recent IP storage report, but I knew that something was brewing because they had been unusually quiet lately.

Intransa was part of my early reviews of IP storage back in 2003, and that initial version of the IP5000 from Intransa earned top scores.

However, one of the dilemmas faced by companies with good products but too many close rivals is differentiating themselves from the competition and perhaps addressing customer demands that others are overlooking.

With a new management team composed of storage industry veterans and a fresh injection of VC funds, Intransa is charging that dilemma head-on. This week, it's trumpeting StorStac, a new clustered architecture that has specialized nodes to selectively add more capacity or more performance. Predictably, Intransa calls those devices PCUs (performance controller units) and SCEs (storage capacity enclosures).

"We are in a slightly different market than EqualLogic or LeftHand Networks," explains Jeff Whitney, vice president of marketing for Intransa and one of the new managers. "Our customers may want to add extra performance without adding extra capacity, or they can add extra capacity without adding extra performance," he says.

As part of an effort to differentiate itself from the competition, Intransa is also extending its target audience. Previously, it mainly focused on entry-level and mid-tier customers; now, it's looking to include more performance-intensive, network-based applications, such as video-on-demand, IP television, video surveillance, and remote medical imaging.

With those and other bandwidth-intensive environments in mind, it's only natural to think that 10 GbE will be part of the new StorStac architecture. After all, that's today's realistic fast transfer rate for IP transport.

In fact, a 10 GbE-capable PCU is currently in beta, and according to Intransa, it will deliver a throughput of 750MBps. As you can have up to four PCUs per cluster, the total transfer rate of such a system should be a remarkable 3,000 MBps.

Intransa hasn't set an availability date for the controller with 10 GbE, but a 2GbE-capable unit that aggregates 2GbE ports should become available by the end of March. Expect that PCU to have a transfer rate of up to 220 MBps and a similar option to stack up to four controller in a single cluster.

It's worth nothing that Intransa is still shipping 1GbE controllers and that the three different performance options (1GbE, 2GbE, and 10GbE PCUs) will work with the same SCE and can scale to the same max capacity of 180TB per cluster. "That's a theoretical limit," Whitney says. "We have close to a petabyte on our road map."

Whitney is confident that Intransa has virtually no competition in the network applications market. "The only [company] that has something similar is Isilon, but they are file-based, while we are block-based," Whitney says, adding that customers that have already their own file system will find a block-based solution more attractive.

Will Intransa make a killing (or continue to make a killing, I should say) in the network applications space? I'm not venturing any predictions, but it will be a good fight to watch and an interesting technology to follow.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.