CBL pops out a software painkiller for RAID arrays

CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc. has new software that it says chops downtime for companies dealing with broken RAID arrays, but one industry analyst wonders if the technology works as well as the vendor claims.

CBL in September unveiled its Universal Storage System Analyzer (USSA) software. It’s meant to take away some of the pain associated with recovering data from downed disks.

Before USSA, sometimes customers had to ship an entire server to CBL’s labs for scrutiny. That meant the server was out of production for days or weeks while CBL’s researchers applied their recovery know-how to the sick infrastructure.

With USSA, customers need only ship the drives. The server stays in production and clients can get to work rebuilding the RAID system.

According to Bill Margeson, CBL’s Markham, Ont.-based CEO for Canada, USSA helps the company re-establish data quicker than ever. For example, during a recent USSA demonstration the software discovered 576 possible configurations that CBL’s team would have to run through to find the problem on a particular device.

“We used to call it ‘the lottery,'” Margeson said. “We would use creative approaches to whittle the problem: 576 to 300 – use some mathematics to guess what the configuration may be. We were always left with this deal of putting four drives on in a different order, try it. If it didn’t work, put them in a different order. Try it….There’s no way around it.”

But with USSA, “We don’t do the lottery anymore.”

During the demo “the software ran about 11 minutes and boiled down those (576) permutations to three. Then a quick observation of the results precluded two of them.”

Margeson said USSA makes quick work of the most common problem: misconfiguration. A client might have tried to reconfigure the array after replacing a drive, only to discover that certain info is no longer available.

CBL can use USSA to delve into the disk and find out what the trouble is. The process might save network managers a headache or two. As Margeson said, “downtime in the server world is measured in minutes, and [people] start shouting after an hour.”

Gaylen Schreck, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., was skeptical of CBL’s claims with USSA.

“I’m not sure if CBL’s technology can work on just any disk array. Many vendors like EMC, IBM, or HDS, virtualize the physical disk drives inside the array, and only present logical volumes that CBL may not be able to work on.”

In response, CBL said, “Almost any RAID setup can be examined without requiring any specific hardware such as an identical RAID controller card. Also, included in [USSA] are proprietary systems in industry use, such as IBM’s RAID-1E, RAID-5E offerings, and Compaq-HP’s…Advanced Data Guarding system.”

Alan Freedman, research manager, infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, noted that since USSA means clients need only ship media to CBL, customers would “save a lot of time cabling, un-cabling, re-cabling. There’s a lot less potential for human error. And that’s besides the obvious shipping costs, which would be reduced as well.”

Beth Guyer is senior manager of communication recording systems (CRS) technical services at Dictaphone Corp. in Melbourne Fla. She said CBL is trying to recover telephone recordings hiding in a stubborn NAS device that belongs to one of her customers.

“I have found that their turn-around time, getting back to us…they’re very quick to tell us what they do. Of course, it’s not cheap, but like anything else sometimes when you have data that’s important to the customer, you have to think of the customer first.”

Margeson said recovery jobs start at about $1,000. Lab time runs $100 per hour. For more information visit CBL online at www.cbltech.com.