Acirro manages distributed data

Storage vendor Acirro Inc. tends to marooned data – it helps customers manage file-level storage data on different devices, in separate geographic locations, in departments and on different networks as if it were part of a common pool of data located on a locally attached device.

The company’s product Acumula – named after cumulus cloud formations – gathers metadata that can be stored in files, rather than individual data files, from distributed network-attached storage (NAS), direct-attached storage (DAS) and Fibre Channel storage-area network (SAN) devices so it can be monitored and managed from one location.

Acumula uses a consolidated file system called the Global Distributed File System (GDFS) that sits on top of two common file systems – the Unix Network File System and Windows NT/2000 Common Internet File System (CIFS) – and lets users see files as if they were attached to a local drive.

“These guys are doing a file system that virtualizes all the NAS, [DAS and SAN] boxes you choose, in the LAN and WAN,” says Steve Kenniston, technology analyst for Enterprise Storage Group. “The uniqueness of this package is that it sits on top of any file system, doesn’t replace what you already have and handles only metadata [and not actual files] so there are no overhead worries.”

Acumula’s metadata is transmitted over IP from each device using a proprietary asynchronous protocol called File Distribution Protocol, which Acirro says reduces the latency associated with distributed file systems. Block-level Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) data can join in as long as its data is represented as file-type data by a NAS/SAN gateway, letting all network data be joined in the same pool.

Acirro’s GDFS uses Windows Explorer interface to view data. Because Acirro says that 80 per cent of the data on the network is dormant, its software determines which metadata will be cached locally based on a process called pruning. Pruning doesn’t actually pare down the amount of data represented, but chooses those 20 per cent of files that are used most often on the network.

The company is not without competition. A number of vendors, including Exanet, Fujitsu Softek, Sanbolic, NuView, Z-Force, Spinnaker Networks and Scale Eight, make software or hardware that approximates what Acirro’s Acumula does. Some vendors, such as Exanet, Z-Force and Spinnaker, have hardware devices and software that aggregate storage. Others, such as NuView, 1 Vision and Scale Eight, have software only. NuView and 1 Vision handle only Win NT/2000 CIFS data. Scale Eight recently restructured from a service provider focus to a software provider.

No agent resides on individual nodes such as in the NuView product, the company says, and data is gathered via SNMP and proprietary APIs it uses. The software runs on industry-standard Intel servers using Win NT or 2000; it is managed via a browser-based interface.

As NAS nodes are added into the network, the host software recognizes them and adds them dynamically into the pool so they can be managed and monitored. As NAS nodes fail, their load is distributed across the pool of network-attached nodes.

The company, founded in May 2000 and funded by Raza Industries for US$9.5 million, has 41 employees, most of them engineers.

An Acumula node is required at each enterprise site. Each node is US$7,500. An additional US$2,500 is required for each 250GB managed.

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