Startup aims to clean up data centres

Entrepreneur Cheng Wu is taking lessons learned about Web content delivery at his last start-up and applying them at his new venture to improve data-centre information management.

Wu, who founded content switch-maker Arrowpoint Inc. and sold it to Cisco Systems Inc. for US$5.7 billion in 2000, is now chairman and co-founder of Acopia Networks Inc. Acopia, which takes its name from a Spanish word meaning “to gather together,” is building switches that connect application and file servers with storage arrays to provision and dynamically allocate resources based on policies an IT manager puts in place.

Wu says the new company, which is funded with $40 million from Charles River Ventures, Star Ventures, St. Paul Venture Capital, Accel Partners and his own money, will attempt to address the shortcomings of existing data-centre architectures.

“In a data centre as much as 80 percent to 85 percent of the budget is spent in enterprise applications, servers and storage, where those resources become increasingly network-attached,” Wu says. “The only way to cut the budget down is by making the network more intelligent. We set out to do a network device that can switch and serve file traffic at the same speed as a network switch can switch packets. That can only be done by virtualizing the network resources.”

The company’s first product, the ARX6000, connects to a network switch such as a Cisco Catalyst 6000. The device gathers files from heterogeneous storage arrays and file servers into a virtualized data pool so the files can be managed more easily. Applications such as volume management, replication or life-cycle management can be loaded on the switch.

Joe Fuccillo, senior vice president and CTO for a business-continuity services company in the Northeast that has been beta-testing the switch, says it could change the way his company does business.

“We are looking at the switch to cut back on software purchases,” he says. “(If you can run applications on the switch), you don’t need advanced copy, migration and replication licenses for a lot of the vendors’ hardware, which can be very expensive. With it we can have different classes of storage and move data around based on policies.”

Fuccillo also is looking forward to smaller switches Acopia has on tap.

“Acopia will have a pizza-sized box,” he says. “We are going to have a service for the (small and mid-size business) market and drop it in customer locations, which will then replicate data back to our data centres for disaster-recovery purposes.”

Several companies, including Cisco and Brocade, are vetting Fibre Channel switches that virtualize storage and run applications such as data migration and replication for storage-area network (SAN) data. The products are scheduled for release beginning this fall. Other companies, such as NuView Inc., Z-force Inc. and Rainfinity Inc., are aggregating network-attached storage (NAS) data and are currently shipping products.

The ARX6000, unlike intelligent Fibre Channel switches promised from Cisco Systems Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Sanera Systems Inc., SANdial Systems Inc. and Maranti Networks Inc., will attach to NAS and file servers with direct-attached storage and virtualize the files residing on them.

Acopia is providing few specifics on pricing, but says a mid-size switch will probably cost around US$100,000.

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