EMC's Atmos cloud storage aims to tie together global data depositories

It offers worldwide data storage for Web 2.0 uses

In an offering aimed at helping businesses tie together their complex data-storage systems in diverse locations around the world, EMC Corp. today unveiled its new Atmos cloud infrastructure product.

Atmos, which previously had been code-named Maui, is a policy-based information management application that places copies of data in various sites around the world, then allows users to manage its dissemination to others based on policies that can be set for specific users, said Mike Feinberg, the senior vice president and general manager of EMC's cloud infrastructure group.

"It's policy-based, so data can be classified to move at different rates for different customers who have different service needs," Feinberg said. "It can be changed dynamically."

Atmos, which will be sold as software alone or as a system including industry-standard servers loaded with the application, will initially be aimed at online service providers, such as video- or image-sharing vendors that need to store and access large amounts of data around the world, Feinberg said.

"When we first looked at this, we thought there's only a handful of customers, 20 or 30," that could take advantage of this new cloud storage technology, Feinberg said. But the company also talked to customers in other areas, such as oil and gas exploration and financial services, and "they expressed interest," he said.

"We're focusing on Web 2.0 uses ... but practically speaking, many other customers said they have too much data and can't manage it" today, he said.

Atmos appliances will be sold in 120TB, 240TB and 360TB configurations, the company said.

Some customers have been trying out the new technology for the past 12 to 18 months, though none would yet speak about it publicly, he said. No pricing information has been announced.

One of the big differences between Atmos and other storage systems is that most traditional storage focuses on the delivery of data in a single data center. That data center can then be set up to communicate with one other data center, but not to communicate with many others around the world.

"There are no other products inside EMC that have these capabilities," Feinberg said. "It's a different mind-set that we're going after ... a different architecture."

Analysts agreed that Atmos ushers in some key new capabilities for enterprise users.

Ben Woo, an analyst at market research firm IDC, called Atmos "quite revolutionary" because it's a new category that will allow storage devices in geographically diverse locations to talk with one another. That allows corporate data to become much more than stored information sitting in a remote repository, Woo said. By being able to access data from anywhere and share it with applications that need it via specific policies, it now brings context and value to the stored data that couldn't be taken advantage of in the past, he said.

"It will allow applications to be able to leverage relevant information when they need it, based on the connections and the policies," Woo said. "Users will have to set the policies, to create the intelligence that links the storage repositories ... but it's dynamic enough to be able to get the information before the policies have been set."

Atmos will also help enterprise users determine how to better distribute their data around the world for quicker access and for improved disaster recovery capabilities, he said.

By setting customized policies, Atmos can "also help you search for relevant information more quickly," Woo said. "It isn't until very recently that we realized the value of the information that we keep."

"Storage experts used to have this belief that the value of data was highest at its conception and that it faded over time," Woo said. "Now we see it is more valuable over time. That's why this is exciting. It's the first deliverable from any storage company that helps use context to search for relevant data more quickly. That's critical going into the future."

Terri McClure, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., said Atmos is "a big deal" because it will help businesses with one of their key needs -- finding better ways to store huge amounts of unstructured data that are choking businesses.

"This is a globally distributed system," McClure said. Although some storage start-ups have offered globally distributed infrastructures, when a big company like EMC offers such products for the enterprise, users may be more ready to take a look at them. "This really validates the market," McClure said.

This is important for business users because "everybody's becoming a media company," with all kinds of files and communications, including video, images and much more, she said. "Everybody's embracing it," McClure said of the growth of such information in corporate Web sites, business processes and internal structures. "Corporations are embracing it."

But to deal with all that information, business users need improved systems, such as those promised by EMC's Atmos technology, she said.

"For any company, this could be a good thing," she said. "It's all about the Internet at Web 2.0 scale. Storage infrastructure is in data centers. Typically, they're [located inside] the data center ... because they've been built to solve a particular data center problem. But what Atmos allows you to do is to have storage geographically located where you need it, and aggregate it into a giant virtual storage system even though it is in [many] places."

"It's really a globally distributed infrastructure ... where you can manage everything as one, rather than in separate places," McClure said. "This is really about policy-based information management. That's the new thing, at Internet scale. You're managing one thing even though it's geographically distributed, like a living, breathing organism."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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