StorServer Appliances: Toaster-Level Storage

Simplicity in storage? StorServer makes the case for no-hassle appliances.

Storage has garnered a reputation as being a complex and esoteric realm within IT. But those days may be over if vendors like StorServer Inc. of Colorado Springs, CO, have anything to do with it. StorServer has released a series of appliances designed to add simplicity and plug-and-play features to the storage universe.

“An appliance should be defined as a device that accomplishes one thing well, is simple to use and can be installed in 15 minutes,” says Mike Karp, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates of Boulder, CO. “It should really operate like a toaster.”

StorServer offers series of appliances for various areas within the storage perimeter. The common idea they hold is to reduce the management complexity to the point where there is no need to add a storage administrator to the payroll.

The Business Continuity Appliance, for example, comprises a full suite of integrated backup, archive and data recovery functions. The Micro Series has a capacity of 300 GB to 30 TB with pricing beginning at around $20,000. The Enterprise Series, on the other hand, costs around $200,000 and provides up to 1,080 TB. In between are the Small and Medium series, which have a maximum capacity of 30 TB and 144 TB respectively.

“Each appliance includes certified hardware and software for comprehensive easy-to-use data protection,” says Laura Buckley, vice president of product development at StorServer. ”The appliance arrives on site product ready and is plugged into the network. Client software is installed on related systems.”

Once installed, backup and archive data is transmitted from local or network storage equipment into the appliance. Each appliance has D2D and D2D2T configurations so data can be copies and sent offsite for DR purposes. After the initial backup, only new or changed data is backed up thereafter. When a restore is required, a database produces a list of files to restore along with their locations – onsite and offsite. If files are on disk, restoration can begin at once. Otherwise tapes have to be retrieved from the tape vault.

“With our devices, you don’t have to select the server, the storage array, the tape library of the backup software,” says Buckley. “There is also no finger pointing as we support every function.”

StorServer SAN appliance is the product of a partnership with Compellent International of Eden Prairie, MN. It provides thin provisioning, remote replication, unlimited snapshots and tiered storage within a simplified SAN architecture.

Block level data movement is made easy in this system, as well as virtualization aimed at raising the rate of storage utilization. In addition, clustered controllers provide automatic failover. It also connects to most servers without the need for server agents.

“Compellent’s standards-based hardware architecture frees companies from technology risk by providing the capability to mix and match server interface or drive technology,” says Buckley. “The StorServer SAN appliance offers simultaneous support for Fibre Channel and iSCSI.”

Finally, the company sells the StorServer VCB appliance that aims to remove the hassle associated with VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) administration.

“StorServer VCB Appliance makes VCB simple,” says Buckley. “For example, there is no need to set up proxy servers, configure VCB or perform other repetitive tasks.”

This appliance centralizes the backup of VMware ESX servers by VMware (part of EMC Corp of Hopkinton, MA). As a result, there is no need to have individual backup agents running on each virtual machine (VM). This also reduces resource utilization on VMs, hosts and the LAN during backup operations.

To function, however, VMs must be based solely upon ESX server and not other virtualization technologies. In addition, these VMware ESX servers must have their storage in a SAN environment. A backup schedule is then created on the appliance for each VM to be backed up. This schedule executes a pre-processing script which freezes I/O on the file system of the VM, creates a snapshot and mounts it on the StorServer (which is situated within the SAN). The entire VM (or an incremental backup) is then backed up while the VM continues to run.

According to Buckley, pricing for StorServer VCB Appliance is slightly higher than other StorServer Business Continuity Appliance products. To her mind, such appliances are a sign of things to come. Anything, she says, that makes storage simpler is clearly a good thing.

“Storage appliances are becoming commonplace due to their ease of use, simplified management and rapid implementation,” “says Buckley. “We target companies that don’t have the time or the resources to learn and implement new technologies.”

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