PowerFile Ships New Active Optical Drive Appliance

The DVD-based system is designed to keep archived data "always accessible" on a network.

PowerFile, which makes optical drive archive appliances for digital storage, introduced on Sept. 5 its Active Archive Appliance, which uses an "active" mode method for keeping frequently accessed data such as documents, images and media files always accessible on the network.

The approach, designed for both small and midsize business and enterprise users, stands in contrast to the traditional method of "banishing data off to tape where it remains an enterprise burden for years," a PowerFile spokesperson said.

While identifying itself to the network as a standard network volume, the PowerFile A3 commits data to a virtualized massive array of DVD optical media.

The system leaves a copy of frequently accessed data in primary cache for fast retrieval, PowerFile marketing vice president Jonathan Buckley said.

By pooling the DVD subsystem storage, the A3 creates highly reliable volumes of storage up to 30.6TB. By using a standard DVD underpinning, the system protects important archived information from accidental erasure, unauthorized modification, data corruption, or viruses—for 50 years or more, Buckley said.

"Since the system was designed and tuned for long-term online archive, power usage amounts to about 5 percent of that of typical spinning disk," Buckley said.

PowerFile, based in Santa Clara, Calif. has a very well-thought out solution, David Hill, principal of the Mesabi Group in Westwood, Mass., told eWEEK.

"The old saw that there is a place for everything and everything in its place is true for their optical solution. Optical has the advantage over tape of random [i.e. online] versus sequential access. That is very important in retrieving information that is indexed [think Google search]," Hill said.

Optical has the advantages over disk in that it can be natively WORM (which means that you have hardware-based immutability rather than software or firmware-based immutability of disk) and can be removable (in case you want to move optical disks to another site), Hill said.

"Disk has the advantage of greater scalability; IT can build a bigger array with disk," Hill said.

"PowerFile fits into areas where under 10TB is required— whereas MAID, or massive array of idle disks, may be more effective at a larger scale—and also where native WORM capability is important, where online access is critical and where you expect to keep the data around for a number of number of years," Hill said.

A lot of the information in organizations is fixed content, and that information is not going to change, Hill said.

"Yes, some of that information should be deleted, such as old e-mails that no longer serve any useful purpose. However, quite a bit of what might even be called persistent data can have a long life—e-mail saved for years, certain medical records for decades and registry of deeds information for centuries plus," he said.

Active archiving is becoming more important as organizations come to realize that this data has to be accessible online—as someone may need to see it—but that the number of accesses is not going to be very frequent.

"This is an example of what is being termed the long tail," Hill added.

In the past five years the emergence of multitiered storage has gained widespread acceptance, as an organizations ability to generate data has outstripped the ability to scale primary storage systems, either physically or economically.

/zimages/4/28571.gifThe HD DVD vs. Blu-ray Media Disc war heats up. Click here to read more.

For aging content that needs to be kept for reference or to satisfy regulations, the only choices have been lower-cost, SATA (Serial ATA)-based disk systems and offline tape systems.

Both technologies require high maintenance over the life of the archive, due to the nature of magnetic media. Power and cooling alone make the SATA systems too expensive over five to 10 years, even if the systems were free.

Meanwhile, many tape systems are offline, inaccessible and vulnerable to data decay, Buckley said.

"The process of retrieving a file from our tape archive was such a hassle, even after the tape was mounted and restored," said Terreyl Kirton of Pennsylvania-based VT Graphics.

"With the A3, we are now able to pull the content from our archives in seconds, much like any other network share in our environment.

"Moreover, we can give our internal customers direct access to the archives, allowing my team to focus on higher level IT initiatives. In addition to being a rock solid system, this has got to be the easiest storage system I have ever installed," Kirton said.

The Active Archive Appliance Starter Kit provides 3.4TB of usable archive capacity at an MSRP of $15,900, with 1.7TB Expansion Kits available at an MSRP of $5,900.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...