Startup launches array tuned for unstructured, structured data

Starboard's array offers SAN/NAS integration along with tiered storage

Startup Starboard Storage Systems today came out of quiet mode with its first product: a storage array that discerns between structured and unstructured data in order to tailor I/O performance. It's also designed for use in virtualized server environments.

The AC72 Storage System has a modular design, which makes it possible to add to the base unit through expansion modules. The system is highly automated and, therefore, is being marketed at small and midsize enterprises with 50 to 5,000 employees, according to Karl Chen, chief marketing officer for Starboard. Chen said the company has already sold units to 30 customers.

The AC72 Storage System

Starboard's leadership is made up of former executives from other storage vendors, including HP StorageWorks, Storage Tek, Compellent, Xiotech and RelData. The company's chairman is Bill Chambers, the founder of LeftHand Networks, a maker of iSCSI storage arrays that was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2008.

Starboard's storage array offers a single management console for both block and file data. Through what it calls its "Mixed Workload, Application Crafted Storage" section of the operating system, special software in the system's controller detects whether data is block or file-based. If file data is detected, it's sent to either 15,000-rpm or 7,200-rpm SAS hard drives. If it's block data, it's sent to solid-state drives for higher application performance. The AC72 controller has redundant, hot-swappable nodes for resiliency.

"The system ensures consistent performance amongst these different workloads," Chen said. "And, we don't charge for software based on capacity, so the bigger the system grows, the more cost effective it is."

Chen said system pricing works out to just under $1,000 per terabyte of capacity, regardless of the configuration.

The Starboard OS comes with thin provisioning capability -- meaning it serves up the capacity an application needs and no more -- along with data replication and snapshot capability.

Starboard offers several expansion card choices for high-speed connectivity, including 1GbE, 10Gbps Ethernet, and 8Gbps Fibre Channel; 6Gbps SAS is used for the expansion shelves.

The AC72's tiered architecture isn't markedly different from other arrays sold by EMC and NetApp, which use special software and multiple drive tiers to migrate data to the right hardware for optimum application performance. In fact, Chen said the AC72 will compete primarily against EMC's VNX 5000 series unified storage array and NetApp's FAS2000 and FAS3000 storage systems.

The difference between the vendors' systems is that the AC72 has twice the performance and comes in at half the cost, Chen said. It's also more fully automated, according to Lee Johns, vice president of product management.

For example, like HP's 3Par storage system, the AC72 has no RAID controller. All data is striped across all drives, so when a drive fails, the data can be rebuilt quickly.

"Our system is designed so you can easily roll out CIFS, NFS, Fibre Channel and iSCSI-based shares simply," Johns said. "You can say, 'I need a CIFS share,' and in two minutes you're up and running with an iSCSI volume that's very flexible."

Half rack
A half-rack of capacity made up by an AC72 base unit and five expansion units.

From a hardware standpoint, the AC72 is modular, meaning that a single based controller unit can be expanded with multiple units.

The storage array comes with four models: an AC72 7.2TB base configuration that includes a controller with three SSDs and twelve 15,000-rpm SAS drives, an ES16 expansion unit for the latter; a high-capacity AC72 base unit that includes a controller with three SSDs and 24TB of nearline 7,200-rpm SAS drives; and ES45 high-capacity expansion unit for the latter.

The ES16 expansion unit is 3U (5.25-in high) and has 16 drive bays that can be populated with SAS drives with 600GB to 2TB each. The ES45 expansion unit comes with 45 drive bays in a 4U enclosure.

The AC72 scales up to 474TB.

The base units are built on a single Intel Xeon 5600 processor and have 24GB of DDR3 memory, while expansion units run on dual Intel Xeon 5600 chips and have 48GB of DDR3 memory.

The AC72 base unit retails for $79,995; two ES16 expansion units or one ES45 expansion unit retails for $59,995.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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