Plasmon Takes Archiving to a Different Level

By eweek  |  Posted 2007-08-23

Plasmon Takes Archiving to a Different Level

Mike Vizard: What are the opportunities these days around storage as it relates to archiving? Most of the emphasis on storage seems to be about the total volume of storage and the fact that the number of things Im trying to keep track of is growing and I have to, due to regulations, keep track of everything. But what is happening on the archiving side particularly as it relates to compliance and what kind of opportunities does that create for people on the channel?

Koclanes: Well, actually those two issues are related. The storage growth is largely driven by fixed content that is unchanging. But companies, for competitive reasons and for compliance reasons, are feeling compelled to have to keep these digital assets. So much of the storage growth is related to information that is candidate for archiving. Therere also, of course, compliance reasons that people need to retain data for longer and longer periods of time. And that is expanding to a broader and broader set of customers and companies and businesses. Traditionally, people would think, OK, well, I dont really need to worry about compliance unless Im SEC regulated, a Wall Street type firm, banking industry, or maybe in the medical industry with HIPAA compliance and patient records. But the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure passed in December of 2006 and really described the need for being able to have policies and practices in place in how youre going to discover digital records, digital evidence in any civil lawsuit. So now anyone who could be part of a civil lawsuit, which would be virtually any company or individual really, has a responsibility to be able to do electronic discovery of digital evidence.

Vizard: Its kind of a paradox, but as I store more and more of this data, I get larger and larger amounts of data. Dont I exponentially increase my security risks because now theres just so much more data for people to target?

Koclanes: Without a doubt you are exposed to more and more sources and more and more targets of storage that you have in a number of different places of digital content. So it really becomes a priority to come up with some kind of standard practices for some central depositories so that you could be sure you had the security procedures in place. There are a number of practical steps you can take to solve that problem. One of the things that you first must consider is that traditionally in the information technology space, weve stored information in two places. If its digital information, weve kept it on disks. We just keep buying more and more disks. And we back up that disk with tapes. And occasionally we actually dump the stuff and get it off the disk and put in on a tape and somehow put it away. And you secure access on the tape by encrypting it and protecting your keys so that people cant get to that. So, encryption is one methodology you can use. The problem with both of those approaches is your archive approach - theyre both mediums that are magnetically based, are changeable, so they will fade over time. I think weve all tried to watch one of our VHS tapes we recorded of our kids 20 years ago or 10 years ago and are greatly disappointed when we no longer have those videos. Any kind of magnetic medium will not stand a long time-retention period and these archives may need to be kept for the life of a produce, the life of a patient, at least seven to 10 years in many cases for financial records. So you need to find a medium to put this on thats going to be stable. The other secure piece of this is that you need to find a way to ensure that that medium still allows you to do that random discovery. The unique thing about archiving is that you really want the long-term retention, and you really need to do things that most people would think of as back up, right? They want to make a copy to protect themselves, but they need it to last for much longer than a back up and they need to be able to get to it at any time because they dont know when theyre going to have a legal inquiry. Or if its an image of a patient record or a design file, when theres a case that opens up again and they have to go back to those. So they want random access, but they still want longevity. So therere new technologies out there. Plasmon uses one of the best technologies for doing that, which we call our UDO technology, which combine disk and a long-term medium.


Next Page: Archiving appliances.

Archiving appliances

Vizard: Why dont you describe the product that you guys have put together to address this issue? It sounds like its a combination of what I used to call a hierarchical storage solution, but sounds like it may be a little more elegant than what used to be that term.

Koclanes: There are elements of what you thought about in the past as an HSM but, obviously, technologies have moved forward. So, basically, what weve done is created a very specific tiered storage solution in an appliance, what we call UDO archive appliance, that has all the proper attributes of a secured archive. We took blue laser technologies - not Blu-ray, not HD, but blue lasers, thats the only commonality there - and developed a medium so that once the data is placed on this UDO technology, it is stable and it is truly unchangeable. So, once youve recorded and verified on there it will hold up in a chain of evidence, a chain of custody, if you have the right audit trail, as well as in any kind of legal proceeding. So then this medium, which sits on this ruggedized cartridge, is in an appliance where you can put many pieces of this media - up to 76 terabytes behind one appliance. And all the management of the media is done by our software. And weve added a mass RAID cache and software to manage the integration of those two so that to the application world, to your e-mail archive application, to your file management application, it just looks like its writing to disk, but in reality youre being placed on this compliant media.

Vizard: Why would people go with Plasmon if youre partnered, or if they have relationships with, say the EMCs or the IBMs of the world? What is it that is going to bring a partner over to your view of the world?

Koclanes: A couple of different things. For one thing, all we do is archival storage. Theres plenty of history in this business that when you take a set of technologies and optimize it for a specific thing, that you beat both in terms of capabilities and costs. So think back to file access when NetApp decided to optimize an appliance to serve up files. You know, this is optimized to meet the needs of long-term archival. And now, at the same time, the very companies you name are often parts of the same solution. IBM actually OEMs the UDO technology under its 3996 model, so they actually use the Plasmon UDO technology within their product. Frequently, what will happen is, well be in an EMC environment and theyll have a primary copy of the archive on an EMC piece of technology. And because they know that their disk storage arrays really are only going to be there for three to five years, and theyve got a 25-year archive, lets say, or a 10-year archive, theyll put a longer-term copy on the Plasmon technology as the second copy. So sometimes theyre complementary technologies to what theyre used to. But the fact is you can go to anyone who has a data center and ask them how long is their longest storage array in that data center, you know, and three to five years is a pretty normal life. So what are you going to have as your compliant copy by those terms of these archives?

Vizard: So what kind of margins do the partners make on that kind of solution? I mean, is it a healthy business, or is it a lot of storage hardware businesses involved in kind of a cut-throat margin kind of gig?

Koclanes: One of the things that we find that our partners really like is the fact that this is a very unique solution. We have tried real hard to keep the integrity of our channel model. Were 100 percent through the channel; its not an over-distributed product. Theres unique value so the margins hold up well, double-digit margins for the resellers. We have gone after a value-add distribution model. So recently we announced support of the product by Abnet. And, as you know, Abnet usually represents very, very large companies, but they saw the potential of this opportunity to meet this space and bring IT resellers that are looking to add value to their customer, help them with a problem that theyre all struggling with. How do I meet compliance, IT governance and also how do I deal with the significant area of storage growth? So you can get benefits that give you operational efficiencies and also comply to some of the dictates of IT governance and compliance. The final piece I would like to mention is that, more and more, were seeing companies have directives toward being more energy efficient. And thats another key benefit of this technology. The 76-terabyte libraries that I talked about, the appliances, they still just plug into normal 110 wall power. This is a very efficient technology. Youre not spinning disks all the time. Once its recorded on the UDO media, it doesnt require any further electricity to be spinning drives all the time. So, over a 10-year archive, you can save between a half a million and a million dollars over a similar solution from someone like EMC in just power savings.


Next Page: Standard interfaces.

Standard interfaces

Vizard: How does the storage management software paradigm work on top of this? Is there something that I have to custom craft or is there some set of tools that you guys provide that kind of connect back to the main storage array that helps with the whole process?

Koclanes: One of the objectives we had with this product was that it should not require any kind of proprietary API development by the IT department if they had a home-grown application or by any of the standard applications. It presents itself as an NFS or an FTP type interface. So any normal file application that can write to a file system, whether its Windows or a UNIX-based system, can integrate it without any special development. In addition, theres a Web-based GUI that allows you to set up policies, to configure this so that it matches your rules. Maybe you want two pieces of compliant media every time you write to this NFS share. You want to make sure theres a copy locally and a copy youre going to put in an off-site vault. Thats just a policy. Likewise, we have a layer software that lets you manage a pool of these as if it was one appliance. We call that our Enterprise Active Archive. That has application interfaces to enable things like encryption at the file level, it enables you to set retention periods, do single instance verification and gives you one name space across a series of appliances.

Vizard: And does that plug into some larger storage management software system that people have out there, because theyll have a commitment to IBM or a commitment to NetApp or EMC? How do you bridge that gap?

Koclanes: We are delivering an application storage solution that offers a bunch of services that are available to the application. We are not a content manger, were not a data classification, were not an e-mail archive application company. You will find that our customers and our partners are already representing a number of those applications and we are a target for where they can store the objects that they classify, manage, have a workflow process around. So they all write to a set of directory structures and file systems and think of it more as were a location where those directory structures or file systems exist. So its a seamless integration for them. Its very simple. But when they write to these locations, they can define capabilities that can be delivered by the services. That its encrypted at the file level, that you can set a retention period through that application and it will be enforced. Disposition can be enforced. You can do things like override that retention period by placing specific objects on legal hold. Those are all services that we offer out of what looks like just a big file system to the application.

Vizard: What is your best advice, then, to storage providers today who may be struggling with their profitability equation around storage fees?

Koclanes: I think theyll find that they can be the thought leaders and be respected as someone who can help all these companies, IT organizations, address the concerns of their records managers, their compliance officers, their legal requirements, or even potentially green dictates from above. Currently, these IT organizations are looking for direction. So youre now adding much higher value as a solution provider. Because youre not just coming in and selling a generic box that they could practically buy from anywhere, youre coming in and offering them a way to respond to these requests of how am I going to deal with these compliance issues, IT governances issues, these green dictates, and at the same time optimize your storage operation? If theyve got these business drivers that I just talked about, but at the same youre struggling with how am I dealing with my overall storage growth - if I could take some of that growth and, say, its fixed content, Ill put it on this other tier of storage which uses less power, costs less to maintain, doesnt have to be migrated every three to five years, and, one other key point - it doesnt need to be backed up because you know its on a permanent copy - then my whole operation is going to get more efficient. So the solution provider can sell that benefit to the storage organization and then also show them how they can get this project bought off by the business drivers of green initiatives, compliance initiatives, risk management and security initiatives.


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