Ellison's Pillar Data Moves Downscale, Upscale

Pillar Data also is upscaling its Axiom storage solution to polish its appeal to high-enterprises.

Funded with more than $200 million from Tako Ventures, the venture capital firm of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Pillar Data on Tuesday unveiled an entry-level Axiom configuration aimed at small to midsize enterprises, said Russ Kennedy, senior director of marketing and strategy at the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

"This lets us target customers outside our core market to date," Kennedy said. "And the downmarket product is targeted at the channel."

Solution providers said the move is key to Pillar Data's growth. Pillar Data has been struggling to find its identity with its focus on showing the return on investment for an expensive, 10-Tbyte storage system, said Dave Klauser, area director of sales for the northern U.S. at Insight Investments, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and leasing firm.

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"But as tight as the economy is, to get into the door, they need a lower entry price," Klauser said. "And the only way to do that is to strip down the components."

For the smaller enterprises, Pillar Data is offering an entry-level version of Axiom with a single "Slammer" instead of the up to four Slammers offered in its original version, Kennedy said. A Slammer is a high-performance data mover and manager that provides the Axiom's nonstop data access.

The entry-level version scales from 1.6 Tbytes to 24 Tbytes, compared with up to 170 Tbytes in the original version. It includes NAS and Fibre Channel SAN capability and is the first product from the company to offer iSCSI as an option.

However, users of the downscaled Axiom solution still can boost its performance as capacity grows, Kennedy said. The new offering is aimed at enterprises with annual sales of $25 million to $250 million, he added.

The solution, available through Bell Microproducts, costs $35,000 for the hardware and software, including 5 Tbytes of storage.

Klauser said the downscaled Axiom will be much more successful in the channel because of its low price. "It's something VARs should pay attention to," he said. "Pillar has not only adjusted the hardware cost, but also the software cost. But I caution VARs to look at what the uptick in price is when upgrading the software or going over 24 Tbytes of capacity."

For the high-end enterprise, Pillar Data is adding 15,000-rpm, 146-Gbyte, Fibre Channel drives from Seagate, giving it the ability to mix Fibre Channel and SATA drives for the first time, Kennedy said. That allows multiple tiers of storage to be supported in a single solution, he said. Also new are a 4-Gbit-per-second Fibre Channel interface, non-disruptive upgrade capability and SecureWORMfs, a new file system that allows files to be stored in a non-alterable fashion for compliance purposes.

"This allows customers to move file security applications to the same platform as their other applications," Kennedy said.

Benjamin Woo, vice president of sales and marketing at ASI System Integration, a New York-based solution provider, said vendors like Pillar Data and Network Appliance are introducing node-based storage technology as part of what he calls the "third dimension of storage."

The first dimension focused on capacity, or number of Tbytes, and the second dimension revolved around network capacity, including the number and type of ports in the storage devices, Woo said. And with node-based storage computing, customers are finally getting the ability to take advantage of their huge and growing data stores, he explained.

"We're in the position now where there's so much data at rest that we need to do more to access it," Woo said. "We can't use the existing storage controllers because they're busy doing real production work. The next step is to add new storage nodes as capacity increases."

Pillar Data, founded in 2001, came to market with its first Axiom product about 15 months ago. Before it released its product, the company was best-known for the huge investment by the Ellison venture fund and the large number of employees it had, the latter of which caused concern as to whether it might survive. It currently has 500 employees.

Kennedy said Pillar Data's survival is no longer an issue, and profitability is expected late next year or in early 2008.

"It's not a major issue because of our funding structure," he said. "We have mature services and channel organizations. With our funding source, we're built for the long haul."

*Editor's Note: Story updated on Oct. 19 with more information on Axiom and Pillar Data plus additional solution provider comment.