Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Innovative start-up makes clustered storage affordable for SMB - gets funding from the State of Indiana.

Scale Computing, a San Carlos California start-up and soon to be headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana recently received a public/private, $5M funding injection, with a $2M grant coming from Indiana’s 21 Century Research and Technology Fund and the balance from private investors led by the Blue Chip Venture Group.

Scale Computing is a small aggressive organization that is still working out of the proverbial “garage” in San Carlos, but that is all about to change. Their humble surroundings however have not prevented them from developing an innovative clustered storage solution which has all the attributes that resonate with SMB’s looking for performance but affordable storage solutions and those challenged by dedicated data intensive application. Not to mention creating market indigestion for the more established players.

The Scale Computing clustered architecture is built on commodity components bringing a cost and flexibility advantage not enjoyed by more tradition designs. Each 1U node is based on a Supermicro server and comes in 1TB (SN1000) and 2TB (SN 2000) configurations. TrueCluster™ is the storage cluster management system and is a tight integration of licensed intellectual property, open source software and Scale Computing’s proprietary technology. The TrueCluster™ architecture automates storage services that reduces management complexity, supports what is called predictive hardware failure technology and enables a powerful clustered file system. All nodes are managed through a UI which having recently watched a live demonstration, justifies my describing it as intuitively simple.

The foundation of their clustered file system is IBM’s GPFS which has already earned considerable credentials in the HPC world but now has been tamed by Scales innovative engineering team to deliver not just its powerful functionality but with the ease of use that enables it as a practical option for the commercial world, particularly the SMB and non-sophisticated storage users.

Some highlights of the Scale solution are:

  • “Pay as you grow” Storage. Addresses the questionable practice of paying for storage you do not yet need, a waste of CapEx and OpEx dollars. A basic attribute of clustered architectures is scalability which Scale Computing has enhanced with a highly granular approach that starts with a minimum configuration of 3TB and grows in increments of 1TB of usable capacity. These growth chunks realistically match the growth need of the smaller user. Clusters can be expanded to a single file system capacity of 2.2PB.
  • TrueCluster™ is a symmetrical clustered solution. This means there is a peer relationship between all nodes and with each being equal each has the capability to change and control the entire cluster. This elimination of any “master” node eliminates a single point of failure and delivers a robust, highly available solution normally associated with enterprise data centers.
  • Unified storage: This means a storage system that can be used with file systems and storing file data; or can use an application that does block-based I/O (database/email) right to that storage system. TruCluster can serve block and file based data from the same cluster via iSCSI, NFS or CIFS. An interesting consolidation option which previously was only available on much more expensive solutions.
  • Commodity based hardware. Ride the declining commodity curve and the dynamic innovation curve to drive competitive pricing and rapid integration of new technology driven options.
  • Disruptive pricing: A clustered storage solution that has an entry price point under $13k (for minimum configuration of 3xSN1000) and a per “usable TB” cost that drops to $2500 (when purchasing the SN2000) will certainly create indigestion for the current vendor establishment.
  • Ease of Implementation, Management and Use: Innovative use of artificial intelligence technology to eliminate complexity and simplify the customer experience, including predictive self healing attributes, are considered by Scale to be a significant competitive advantage. These plus the scalability and flexibility inherent is a clustered architecture are attributes that strongly resonate with not just the SMB user but all storage practitioners.

As noted Scale Computing is a start up organization that has all the enthusiasm, expertise, energy and “moxy” you would expect from a team of highly motivated and bright individuals. The question is their ability to execute in the face of commercial reality and to navigate the hurdles they will undoubtedly encounter as their customer base grows, not to mention the increased competition that will develop as they start to appear on the radar screens of the established players in the storage market.

They are not without success with a strong reseller ecosystem developing with such resellers as Ryjac Solutions and MicroAge and customers in healthcare, education, legal and the construction verticals and with a win at Motorola they have now registered their first fortune listed customer. The first beta unit was shipped last November with GA units being shipped in February of 2009. Approximate unit shipments to date, is close to 150.

So far, so good! However, they are moving into a new phase of their corporate and market development but the strength I perceive in their core value proposition and their past entrepreneurial success, would suggest that they have a better than average chance of success.

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