PARIS — A little more than two years ago, eWEEK published an article about “Ten Disruptive Storage Technologies.” At the top of that list was a startup called Seanodes, based here in a city much more known for romance than data storage.
We called Seanodes a “disruptive” factor in the data storage business — not because it has a new concept, but because it has taken an older idea and refined it for the virtualized world of IT. Its shared internal storage concept clashes completely with conventional enterprise storage operations because it requires no external storage hardware.
That’s correct. It requires no external storage hardware. No storage box, no controller, no SAN or NAS — nothing. There are no distributed software agents; every node in the system with an IP address gets discovered and accounted for, and the storage it contains flows into the central pool for production.
An enterprise’s data becomes tucked away in chunks throughout a system, including in production and non-production database servers, Web servers and dedicated application servers. IT managers can choose which servers they want to use for storage and which ones they don’t.
This pooled-storage concept was used in some systems in the mainframe days of the 1960s through ’80s, but not to the extent that Seanodes uses it.
“Most of a data center system’s storage capacity is wasted, just sits there, and is never utilized,” Seanodes CEO and founder Jacques Baldinger told me. “Its overhead disk space that never gets used because the conventional wisdom is to always have much more than you actually need to get the work done.”
And the convention says: “If it works well enough, then leave it alone.” This is certainly not the most efficient way to run a data center, but it is the way it’s done in most data centers.
Seanodes’ Exanodes was originally designed as an architecture for high-performance computing and enterprise environments.
Seanodes, which totals only about 100 employees — in its development center in Colomiers, France, and at its corporate offices near Paris and in Cambridge, Mass. — also brings to the table an intriguing green IT concept: It puts to work virtually all of a system’s wasted spinning disk capacity for a hugely less power draw than a typical one that spins up numerous NAS, SAN and SATA disks and cools them in racks.
Naturally, conventional storage companies downplay the whole concept of jettisoning external storage racks to move it over to internal production capacity.
“I’ve never heard of a dumber thing in my life,” one marketing rep from a prominent data storage company told me. “Why would anybody want to mix up dedicated application and DB servers with tiered storage? Two different animals, totally. Talk about mixing oil and water!”
Virtualization Is the Answer
Baldinger smiles at that kind of talk. The Seanodes CEO is a straight shooter who is totally convinced that his way works — and will scale. In his 30-year career, he worked at Sun Microsystems (11 years) and at NetApp (four years) before venturing into his own territory with this new company four years ago. So he knows a fair bit about data storage, its inefficiencies and how to retool existing systems to be substantially more efficient.
“The storage systems out there right now are just wasting space and power,” Baldinger said. “They are way over-provisioned, in general, and you either don’t need all that capacity or you’d better put it to good use.”
As it has been estimated that a human uses only a small part (perhaps 10 percent) of his or her memory capacity, Seanodes estimates that about the same amount of storage capacity is actually used in virtually all enterprise systems.
“We are doing for storage what VMware has done for applications,” Baldinger said.
“Exanodes is the exact symmetric: When VMware aggregates, organizes and consolidates CPUs in application servers, Exanodes aggregates, organizes and consolidates storage devices in application servers,” Baldinger said.
Although it is constantly in a development mode, Seanodes does have a number of customers using the original two-year-old Exanodes in their daily production.
Biggest challenge: Finding atypical thinkers
The biggest difficulty Baldinger and Seanodes have is to convince enterprise data center managers to consider coming out of their comfort zones to try something bold and different that could start a revolution in data storage and save substantial amounts of money while still getting the job done well.
The latest development in the Seanodes package is that the product now has a business continuity feature. Whenever a disk anywhere in the system goes down or is replaced, whatever may be running on the system is not affected.
In one demonstration, Seanodes staff members showed a video stream running on the system. While it ran in one window on the screen, a staff member physically moved the node running the stream to a totally new location. No disruption in the streaming.
“For sales presentations, we often make it a point to physically pull the plug on a server while an operation [like a video stream] is running,” Baldinger said. “They [potential customers] always shout, ‘No, don’t do that!’ But the software uses the entire system as its domain, and if one or more disks go down, it’s no big deal — the job gets transferred automatically, and there is no disruption.”
Seanodes is soon to get some worldwide attention — and attendant credibility — for a new partnership with a top-tier software vendor whose name cannot be mentioned now. The announcement will come in a few weeks. “This will open a lot of people’s eyes,” Baldinger said.
For more information on Seanodes, go here.