Storage newcomers fight uphill battle

Gresham is newly marketing its VTL product to mixed U.S. reviews, and Australian file management player Moonwalk is inching its way onto U.S. radar screens.

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Two companies from overseas are mounting marketing campaigns on American shores this spring: British-based Gresham Computing PLC, marketing a virtual tape library (VTL) and tape management product, and Moonwalk Inc., an Australian software player, with some big talk about unstructured data migration.

Both of the players are talking a good game, according to analysts, but will both be swimming upstream until and unless they can land customers and channel partners in the U.S.

Moonwalk: Cutting out the middleware

Moonwalk's products were originally developed to move NetWare files but now support all the major operating systems on its host-based file management agents. The company officially announced this week that version 6.0 of its self-titled hierarchical storage management (HSM) product is available for the first time on the U.S market.

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Each of Moonwalk's agents is managed by a policy management console the company has nicknamed Eagle, which pushes out agents to servers at the initial installation and keeps track of the policies users must set up to move files. Once migrations are completed, the product leaves stub files behind on the original device so that the file seems untouched to the end user.

Migration policies can be applied to different groups of hosts and can be "layered," so that a user can set up different policies. For example, applying to all Windows servers, as well as all Windows servers running a certain application, without conflict. The value proposition here is that in large environments, the host-based approach cuts out middleware and appliances that can be a throughput bottleneck.

Moonwalk's CEO, Peter Harvey, said there hasn't been much pushback from end users about agents, since their installation can be done remotely and doesn't require a reboot. "Our agents are light as well -- for NetWare it's one megabyte and for Windows it's between four or five megabytes." The product can get a little clunky when it comes to using it with virtual servers, as the company recommends an agent for each virtual host.

However, Moonwalk argues the host-based approach is what allows it to support heterogeneous storage on the back end. "As long as it's got a file system, we don't care who makes it," Harvey said.

"We initially set off to find [a product for] email archiving and stumbled across Moonwalk to solve our file storage problems," wrote one Moonwalk user, Martin Attfield, technical project manager for U.K.-based tea company R. Twining & Co Ltd., in an email to SearchStorage.com. "Moonwalk … allowed us to cap the capacity that was on expensive disks and move over 1 million historical files offline without our IT customers even noticing a change." Attfield also said Twining hasn't had to add disk storage for file systems to its EMC Corp. Symmetrix arrays since that initial migration in 2005, even though end users have since used about three times their original allocation for files.

The product is also working with an often complex mix of Unix, Novell and Microsoft servers, according to Attfield. "We have a four-node NetWare Cluster with the data synchronized with a Windows volume in a different data center, and we are able to Moonwalk both sets of data to an EMC Centera cluster as single-instance storage," he wrote. "We've thrown a number of challenges to Moonwalk support, and they are always very helpful and fairly quick at producing fixes."

According to analysts, the product looks good, on paper anyway. "ESG believes that organizations will archive over 43,000 petabytes (PB) of unstructured file system information in the next four years," said Mark Bowker, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) -- so there is a market opportunity, and the product could be valuable there, he said.

He pointed out that the product does not address structured and semistructured content types. At least one Moonwalk competitor, Nirvana Storage, which is being used by the Department of Homeland Security for similar data migration, addresses all data types with its software). "IT organizations that have broad ILM [information lifecycle management] initiatives will look for products that manage all data types throughout their lifecycle."

And it remains to be seen at this point what OEMs and resellers will be looking for, according to Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group. "The challenge with host-based, nonmiddleware or appliance-based HSM in the past on open systems has been the instability and complexity associated with scaling," Schulz wrote to SearchStorage in an email. "Key for Moonwalk will be to establish some … reseller and OEM partnerships … and … demonstrate to customers and partners their ability to scale without introducing instability with regard to performance or increased management complexity."

Gresham: The most popular VTL you've never heard of?

Gresham's claim to fame is a product called Enterprise Distribu-Tape (EDT), which is a software product that translates Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) into Automated Control System Library Server (ACSLS) in big environments and can also automate management of large tape libraries, like StorageTek's SL8500 silo. With this product, Gresham claims to have amassed more than 300 customers, many of them in the Fortune 500 and 4,300 licenses in all, all through word-of-mouth sales among big tape users with minimal outside marketing and advertising.

Perhaps because such a niche market has run dry, Gresham is now changing its marketing tune with a VTL product -- the Gresham Storage Consolidation Platform (SCP) -- announced last fall, for which Gresham claims to have between 10 and 15 customers, including household name companies, like Kohl's department stores. The new Gresham marketing blitz will kick off in earnest next week with the planned announcement of version 2.0 of its VTL with updates for scalability and clustering. Leading in to that is an announcement this week that EDT will now support x86 Solaris servers, which the company said is the first of several new interoperability announcements to come.

Gresham's differentiation with its VTL comes as a result of what its vice president of enterprise storage, Keith Summers, touted as the company's "Ph.D. in tape." Because of its heritage in big tape shops, Gresham argued, its VTL will be just the thing for its already captive market, and with a blue chip customer base on its side, the plan is to "aggressively pursue OEM and partnering strategies" in 2007.

With version 1.0 of the VTL, the company is touting the tape management and reporting capabilities that have earned the product a favorable review from Diogenes Analytical Laboratories Inc. The analyst firm ranked the VTL right behind the EMC Disk Library, gushing, "Gresham may not be a household name in the storage industry, but we think their SCP product may be the 'sleeper' system of the disk-to-disk backup product category."

Some analysts said Gresham's "Ph.D." in tape could pay off with the VTL product that uses clustered nodes as a disk cache behind an appliance that attaches to a switch behind multiple backup clients. From there, the system moves data to tape over another switch on the back end to the tape library while keeping a 1-to-1 relationship between virtual and physical tapes and reporting on backup performance, as well as the state of backup media. According to IDC analyst Robert Amatruda, "Gresham's VTL actually ports to physical tape more elegantly than many prevailing open systems VTLs."

Other experts, meanwhile, are not as impressed. According to W. Curtis Preston, vice president of data protection services for Glasshouse Technologies Inc., users already have plenty of offerings from backup vendors when it comes to reporting. "To enter the VTL market at this point, you must have what everybody else has and a whole lot more," Preston said. Far from fitting that description, Preston pointed out, "Gresham is missing a key component in that they don't yet offer deduplication. Their answer to this is interesting, as they say they're partnering with key vendors, [and] the only vendors that are key in this space would be their direct competitors."

While Gresham claims dozens of customers, none are available for reference, including Kohl's. And while Gresham said the VTL will be moved primarily through the channel, it doesn't really have a channel to speak of yet. Only one company, Tributary Systems Inc., located in Texas, is rebranding the VTL for use with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) NonStop mainframes.

It all leads back to the same issue for both Gresham and Moonwalk -- partnerships and customer traction. "It's not unheard of for companies, like Gresham, to fly under the radar screen for awhile," Amatruda said. "[But] in today's world, companies need global, Tier-1 OEMs to bring a product to the mainstream."

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