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DataCore adds disaster recovery to virtual iSCSI SAN

DataCore's new software package allows users to build virtual SANs with HA features, replication and snapshots, all for $4,000.

DataCore Software Inc. is sweetening the deal for new users of its Virtual Infrastructure Foundation line of products with an entry-level software package that adds data protection to the iSCSI SANs it creates out of server hardware and disk arrays.

The VM Starter SAN (VMS) package now includes bundled-in software modules, including high-availability (HA) features, asynchronous replication for disaster recovery, snapshots, thin provisioning, caching and data migration. The software is licensed at $4,000 per 3 TB node.

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The package is meant for small and medium-sized businesses without the budget or expertise for dealing with new networked storage hardware to support new virtual server deployments. The software is Windows-only, but it is compatible with multiple virtual server types, including VMware Corp.'s ESX Server, Citrix Systems Inc.'s Xen, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris Virtual Server, Microsoft's Hyper-V and Oracle Corp.'s Virtual Server. The software can also run on physical servers, including blades.

LeftHand Networks Inc. beat this product to market in the fall with a similar virtual server product, which also can be upgraded to include HA and disaster recovery features. However, LeftHand's software must be preinstalled on physical servers from Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and IBM, or VMware virtual servers, and cannot pool resources from existing storage arrays. LeftHand's product is also iSCSI-only, while DataCore's product can also handle Fibre Channel support.

Low-cost NAS is another alternative for shops looking to go from DAS to networked storage. VMware users have begun embracing NFS as a replacement for layering VMware's VMFS over block storage, similar to the way database administrators embraced NFS earlier this decade.

"Many of those NAS systems also have features like replication built in," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Bowker, and can also be bought on the cheap. Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), for example, offers a low-end multiprotocol system, the StoreVault S300, starting at $3,000.

But according to one SANmelody customer who has been using it to support VMware for six months, the software-based approach is preferable to a NAS device.

Brenda Dvorak, IT director for Hoefer Wysocki Architects (HWA), said she preferred the software-based approach because she's had bad experiences with NAS devices in previous jobs, and because she had no room for more hardware at her company's headquarters.

"I literally had no more room on my rack before we started virtualizing our servers," she said. This space crunch was the impetus for virtualizing servers in the first place. The company investigated other vendors, including EqualLogic, and was quoted prices of up to $70,000 for a hardware SAN as opposed to the $9,000 software package it ended up with from DataCore.

Dvorak said she hasn't seen any performance issues in her environment since deploying the software six months ago. Nor has she seen a failure of the system. By contrast, she said, most of her time has been spent bringing her company up to speed on the various server virtualization products and learning to administer VMware.

"To be honest, I don't think about the SANmelody system much," she said. "It's easy to administer, and all I have to buy to expand storage is regular hard disk drives -- that's all I care about."

Still, the fact that the software is Windows-only might cause some administrators in larger shops to balk because Windows is widely considered a less reliable operating system than Linux and Unix, and Windows servers tend to need frequent patch updates and reboots.

DataCore CEO George Teixeira said DataCore has no plans to introduce a Unix-based version of this product because it includes performance acceleration features that rely on specific characteristics of Windows. With regard to patch updates and reboots, Teixeira said, that's where the ability to failover from one VMS system to another comes in.

Teixeira said DataCore will roll out large packages over the next month ranging from $4,000 to $20,000 and from 4 TB to 32 TB. He also plans NAS support. DataCore also offers a $1,000 iSCSI SAN configuration that includes a 3 TB SANmelody license, data migration, thin provisioning and caching.

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