Transoft Reloaded

Like an early summer sequel, a once-promising player in the video SAN market is back with a new name and help for past customers. Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern looks at the prospects for CommandSoft's FibreJet.

Old soldiers and host-bus adapters seldom die; they just fade away from lack of support, or so goes the old saw. That experience can be painful, especially for early adopters of SANs in the video market.

Of course, were all used to orphaned products, usually old software and computers from which weve gotten good use. They still could do the job but are missing a driver or some special sauce.

But these computing devices are small potatoes when compared with the costs of older Fibre Channel storage-networking packages, which sported price tags around $5,000 per seat (and thats not counting the high cost per gigabyte on the actual storage side of the network). Of course, a current single-port FC HBA still carries quite a heavy sticker—around $900—when compared with the costs of more-mainstream interface cards. Still, its much reduced from the early generations.

So the return of a longtime player in the content segment of the storage market—albeit with a renamed company and product— must have brought smiles to the mugs some attendees at this months National Association of Broadcasters convention. The company is CommandSoft, and its product is FibreJet, the replacement (or what some might call "support") for Transofts FibreNet.

Back in the day, Transoft Networks sold a variety of storage utilities as well as SCSI-based RAID lines and storage area networks. In 1996, the company moved into the then-nascent Fibre Channel SAN market with products aimed primarily at video-editing and post-production applications. The client list was familiar, and its FibreNet systems were used to create many popular films, such as the cult hit "The Matrix."

The needs of these graphics customers is different from your usual enterprise SAN: A relatively small number of very, very large files are shared in a heterogeneous mix of workstations, including Macs and Windows, or other production environments such as Avid Technology. Multiple streams of raw, uncompressed, high-definition video and audio can take all the bandwidth available from 1-Gbit and 2-Gbit FC connections.

With Fibre Channel in its pocket and a pack of early adopters in tow, Transoft made the list of 500 fastest growing companies. In mid-1999, it was bought by Hewlett-Packard, which continued Transofts foray into the content-creation market—for a while. However, in 2001, it let the line go fallow and dropped support for FibreNet. Ouch.

This sort of situation is a nightmare for a production environment. The customers paid handsomely for these products and expected continued ROI for that investment. Suddenly, with a change in strategy from HP, FibreNet owners were stuck.

CommandSoft President and CEO Jim Wolff (former Transoft CTO) said restoring this lapsed support was the first order of business for the new company. To that end, it rolled a bunch of new features into FibreJet, as well as drivers for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. A Windows version is due later this year.

The new FibreJet software adds support for 2-Gbit interfaces, beefs up management and configuration capabilities, and handles multiple open projects. The upgrade costs $500 per seat for FibreNet customers.

At the same time, Wolff said, the company sees room for improvement in SAN management software for the enterprise. In the works, he said, is a software engine that can apply "sophisticated automation" to current storage-management tasks. This engine will be available for license to storage companies as well as application vendors.

And perhaps taking a page from Adaptecs iSCSI playbook, Wolff said the company had the patents to back up its technology.

As a genre-flix fan, I can only hope that this future enterprise direction wont distract CommandSoft from keeping up with its video customers. Perhaps we will see yet another trilogy of "Matrix films" after this years Reloaded and Revolution.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.