CIA-supported startup emerges with SAN appliance

Candera Inc. this week plans to go public with a storage virtualization device after two years of development, joining the race to provide users with technology that can combine different storage subsystems into virtual pools of data.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Candera will announce the release of its SCE 510 appliance, a combination switch and virtualization product that works on multivendor storage-area networks (SAN). The start-up, which has been partly funded by the CIA, is selling the systems in clustered pairs that operate separately from each other but can balance workloads between them.

Candera’s promise is straightforward: The company says that using application programming interfaces based on standards like XML, HTTP and the Simple Network Management Protocol, the SCE 510 can work with any SAN switch to virtualize the storage capacity on various arrays so it all looks like a unified pool.

The new appliance can automatically identify devices on SANs by disk type, vendor and the level of supported redundancy protection, allowing systems administrators to set up dynamic provisioning policies for different types of data, according to Richard Meyer, Candera’s principal engineer.

Market Rivals

The SCE 510 will compete against virtualization products from vendors like IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as Brocade Communications Systems Inc.’s virtualization-enabled SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform switches.

A senior storage architect at a Global 100 company said he’s leaning toward the Candera box over rival virtualization technologies from IBM, FalconStor Software Inc. and DataCore Software Corp. because the SCE 510 was developed with redundancy and high availability in mind.

The other products run on commodity hardware that could prove to be a point of failure in his SAN, said the storage architect, who asked that he and his company not be identified. In contrast, Candera is using a pair of specialized processors designed to handle heavy-duty workloads.

A vice president of architecture and capacity planning at a large financial services firm, who also asked to remain anonymous, said his company beta-tested the SCE 510 last month and plans to roll it out in September. The device should let IT staffers manage all the disk arrays on the firm’s 50TB SAN through a single interface, the executive said.

But he added that the SCE 510 is missing two key features: support for migrating data from direct-attached storage devices to SANs, and data replication capabilities for disaster recovery applications.

Meyer said he has heard the same comment from other potential users and added that both of those features are in development. But he couldn’t say when they’re due to become available.

Mike Fisch, an analyst at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., said Candera’s product could make a splash in the storage management market because it addresses key user requirements, including logical unit-number mapping, capacity planning and dynamic provisioning.

Candera is also jointly developing security-related hardware and software features with In-Q-Tel Inc. in Arlington, Va., a nonprofit company that acts as the CIA’s technology funding arm. Those features include support for the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and Secure Sockets Layer standards and should be added to the SCE 510 in the fourth quarter, Meyer said.