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Storage Startups to Watch in 2014

By Drew Robb

Driven by complexity and high costs, the data storage market is fertile ground for new companies offering cheaper, simpler alternatives.

 What’s going on in data storage? All of a sudden we have a whole new batch of hot startups threatening to disrupt the space. Things haven’t been this active for about five years, it seems.

“The storage industry is ripe for disruption,” said Simon Robinson of 451 Research “A combination of complexity and high costs means that storage is not only expensive to buy, but hugely expensive to maintain.”

Here are a few of the data storage startups recently launched or about to launch that have real promise.  

Maxta

Recently launched, Maxta gave InfoStor a sneak peak. The basic premise is that enterprise storage has not been keeping up with the server side. The dominant architectures of enterprise storage continue to be based on the decades old SAN / NAS paradigm that is complex, costly and does not align well with virtualized server environments. Maxta was founded to bring storage to the same levels of simplicity, availability, agility and cost that is available on the compute side.

MxSP is Maxta’s flagship product. It is described as a hypervisor agnostic, resilient, software-defined VM-centric enterprise storage solution. It is said to enable the convergence of applications, server virtualization and storage on standard servers and it is optimized for virtual workloads, leveraging server attached flash and disk drives. It is also optimized for flash performance and disk drive capacity.

MxSP also has server virtualization capabilities that depend on shared storage such as high availability and VM mobility. It provides services like VM-level snapshot, clone, replication, thin provisioning, compression, and de-duplication.

“MxSP is the first product that provides a genuine alternative to storage arrays in virtual data centers thus enabling significant capital and operational cost savings while streamlining and simplifying IT and providing the ability to scale on demand in lock-step with applications needs,” said Yoram Novick, founder and CEO, Maxta. “MxSP is priced by capacity and includes all the enterprise class data services.”

To date, Maxta has risen $10M from Andreessen Horowitz and another venture capital firm. It was founded by Novick, who previously founded Topio, a provider of platform-agnostic enterprise-level data replication solutions. He served as Topio CEO from its inception until it was acquired by NetApp. 

“MxSP innovation is its novel symmetric peer-to-peer storage architecture, data layout, and VM-level global namespace that is optimized for virtualized environments and server side flash and disk drives,” said Novick. “The bottom line is that MxSP architecture enables all the functionality of enterprise storage arrays in software running on standard servers alongside applications and server virtualization thus streamlining and simplifying IT and eliminating entirely the need for storage arrays.”

Scale Computing

Because there hasn't been direct access of VMs to storage, some see their storage capacity and costs rocket, and they end up over provisioning. Scale Computing’s answer is HC3, a virtualization platform that integrates server, storage and virtualization all in one appliance. It leverages commodity hardware that runs Scale’s ICOS software to bring about direct access of storage to the hypervisor, eliminating any obstacles in the I/O path. A big plus is that it requires no additional licensing or hardware.

HC3 contains server virtualization software on every node with access to a single pool of storage that spans multiple HC3 nodes. It does this while looking like local storage to the hypervisor on each HC3 node.

According to Vanessa Alvarez, Director of Marketing at Scale Computing, HC3 pools compute resources such as CPUs and memory and automatically starts workloads on the node with the most available resources. This clustered architecture provides fault tolerance and scalability while taking the guessing game out of trying to figure out how much storage you need for your VMs. To date, it has taken in $43 million in funding from Benchmark Capital and Scale Venture Partners.

“HC3 is based on enterprise-grade KVM (kernel-based virtual machine), delivering the benefits of KVM in a simplified manner,” said Alvarez.

Exablox

Exablox’s cloud managed, scale-out, object-based storage appliance, called OneBlox, is said to solve storage pain points such as complicated installation, cumbersome storage management, lack of data security and forklift upgrades. Instead of attempting to retrofit the solution into a legacy scale-up RAID architecture, OneBlox employs a scale-out architecture, presenting a single global file system via CIFS/SMB. Features include inline deduplication, continuous data protection, and encryption.

Exablox believes RAID is dead.

“The only way to architect storage to meet the requirements of the next decade is to re-imagine storage,” said Doug Brockett, CEO of Exablox. “A cluster of OneBlox can scale from a few TBs to nearly 200TBs. and it can be installed in less than five minutes.”

The company has received a total of $22.5 million in funding in two rounds of funding: $7.5 million in Series A in 2011 and another $15 million in December of 2012. Investors include DCM, Norwest Venture Partners and U.S. Venture Partners.

Inktank

Inktank intends to transform storage with Ceph, a massively scalable, open source, software-defined storage system that is said to improve the economics and management of storage. Its mission is to help enterprises use Ceph to break free of proprietary storage systems to decrease their storage costs, increase their operational flexibility, and effectively manage their rapidly growing data.

“Inktank Ceph Enterprise is the market’s first enterprise-grade, dedicated Ceph product offering that delivers everything needed to run a production Ceph storage cluster at scale,” said Bryan Bogensberger, CEO of Inktank. “The company also provides professional services and Ceph training.”

Ceph Enterprise is priced based on storage capacity, with prices ranging from below 1 cent to a couple of cents per gig per month depending on volume. Inktank was founded by the creator of Ceph, Sage Weil, with $13m in funding from Dreamhost, Mark Shuttleworth and other investors.

“The shift to software-defined storage will play a role in enabling more cost-effective approaches, and we believe that platforms such as Ceph and vendors like Inktank will play a key role in this transformation,” said Robinson. 

Kasah

Kasah Technology compression product is said to reduce file size by 20-50X compared to the original image file or 7x compared to JPEG. Compression results are obtained without reduction of image quality by not utilizing common compression methods such as removal of color bit depth or reduction of color space. The technology does not require high processing power to encode and decode. The compression algorithms identify image information that can be discarded, resulting in reduction of file size. The discarded image information is then restored through data inference during the decompression process through another series of algorithms.

“With low RAM and CPU requirements, our technology can be applied, integrated and optimized to any open or closed system including smartphones,” said Makoto Nishiyama, President and CEO, Kasah Technology.

Kasah was founded by two app/web designers and three scientists who were involved in imaging techniques throughout their research career at University of California, San Diego and New York University School of Medicine. Funding ($700K as of May 2013) has been provided through two angel investors in the USA.

Instant Logic

Instart Logic sits on the periphery of the storage universe, yet it could well have a big impact. And it’s just the sort of company that an EMC, Cisco or NetApp might pick up to add functionality to broaden their portfolios. So what does it do? Instant Logic’s technology is said to accelerate the delivery of web and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications by streaming content to users. It achieves this by breaking HTML code into its component parts, caching non-unique code in a small client-based hypervisor and delivering the rest of the code in the order by which the user needs it. This means that a website, for example, could be loaded in half the time it would normally take.

The company is backed by $26M in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Tenaya Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures and a series of Silicon Valley angel investors. Early customers of Instart Logic's SaaS acceleration include New Relic, VersionONE, IFTT and RelateIQ. Here’s a the side-by-side demonstration of Instart Logic loading a customer's (VersionOne) SaaS application as compared to not using Instart.

“Instart Logic is particularly well positioned to accelerate SaaS applications, which are highly personalized and dynamic in nature, have a globally distributed user base and a growing number of users accessing their SaaS apps from mobile devices,” said Peter Blum, VP of Product Management at Instart Logic. “Neither Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) nor traditional WAN Optimization solutions can accelerate these dynamic applications effectively.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

  This article was originally published on Saturday Nov 16th 2013
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