Zetera: Storage at the speed of light

Bill Babbitt, Bill Frank, and Tom Ludwig

Once you’ve been on the teams that invented the drive controller standards used by billions of machines, it’s a tough achievement to top. So when Bill Babbitt, Bill Frank, and Tom Ludwig of Zetera created a new network storage paradigm, they simply got rid of controllers altogether.

Zetera Network Storage is built on IP (Internetworking Protocol), which allows applications to communicate directly with network-connected storage devices, eliminating bottlenecks caused by hard-drive controllers, switches, and gateways.

Zetera’s IP-based storage scheme makes accessing stored data as easy as pulling down a Web page, making it both faster and more scalable than traditional NAS. Although similar in operation to a SAN, Zetera’s scheme is far cheaper than iSCSI or Fibre Channel solutions.

“Your performance is limited only by the speed of your pipeline,” notes Ludwig, chief systems architect at Zetera. “And the system is incredibly scalable. You can add one drive or a thousand drives, and it’s immaterial from a scalability point of view.”

Zetera’s founders originally developed the technology for home networks, allowing families to easily share digital home movies and other massive data files. The first commercial product using Zetera’s technology, Netgear’s $129 Storage Central, is slated to appear this month, says Bill Babbitt, senior director of hardware and firmware engineering. “To home users, the drive looks more or less like a USB disc drive, only it’s shared, and performance and storage capacity are far greater.”

But Babbitt says the more they work on the technology, the more interest they get from enterprises attracted by Zetera’s ability to cheaply supplant RAID systems.

In Zetera’s scheme, each physical drive can be assigned its own IP address, be split into virtual drives with their own unique addresses, or be aggregated with other devices into one massive virtual drive. Using IP multicasting, Zetera can send the same data simultaneously to several virtual drives at once, making it a more reliable and efficient way to mirror data.

“The Zetera Technology is disruptive for a number of reasons,” notes Bill Frank, the company’s CTO. “We’ve infused it into Internetworking Protocol to such an extent that most of the functions are actually provided by IP itself. We can do things naturally that other protocols can’t even accomplish — and do it with lower cost and much higher performance.” 

Not bad for a second act.