Starboard Exits Stealth Mode With Channel-Only Unified Storage

Starboard Storage Systems came out of stealth mode Monday with a channel-only model for its new AC72 storage architecture, designed to handle mixed workloads including structured, unstructured and virtualized data with a single platform.

"Storage in the past has been managed in silos, including Fibre Channel, iSCSI and virtualized systems," said Karl Chen, chief marketing officer at the Broomfield, Colo.-based vendor. "They were all designed to support a single workload. But customers want simplified environments. So we provide storage applications that allow IT generalists to quickly provision storage, optimize storage volumes and provide predictable performance."

Starboard does this by pooling hard drives and SSDs into one dynamic storage pool that can be carved up as needed for mixed workloads, Chen said. Included is an SSD accelerator tier that adds performance to the storage operations, as well as I/O monitoring technology that automatically tiers storage as needed.

"If the I/O monitoring technology sees a large file, it automatically writes it to nearline SAS hard drives because performance is not an issue," he said. "But if it detects frequently accessed online data, it keeps that data on SSDs."

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While other storage products have automatic tiered storage capabilities, they are often done via policies, such as the customer configuring the storage system to automatically move older data to a slower disk a week since it was last used, Chen said.

"Our system does it dynamically," he said. "Each system comes with three 200-GB SSDs that are used for primary storage caching as well as the high-speed storage tier."

The AC72 storage node is fully redundant with no single point of failure and comes in two main versions. One version is optimized for storage performance, with a base configuration including 12 15,000-rpm SAS hard drives. The other is optimized for storage capacity, with a base configuration of 12 2-TB, 7,200-rpm SAS hard drives. Both can be ordered with one or two Intel Xeon 5600 processors and include Gbit and 10-Gbit Ethernet, 8-Gbit Fibre Channel and 6-Gbit SAS ports.

The capacity of both models can be expanded with one of two expansion shelves. The ES16 is a 3U device with room for up to 16 600-GB SAS or 2-TB nearline hard drives, while the 4U ES45 fits up to 21 16 600-GB SAS or 2-TB nearline hard drives in front and up to 25 2-TB drives in the rear.

A single AC72 storage head can be expanded with either up to six ES16 shelves for a maximum capacity of 224 TBs, or up to five ES45 shelves for a maximum capacity of 474 TBs.

Starboard’s channel-only model offers partners 40 percent margins in addition to other benefits, said Chen. "We understand you have to make channel partners really profitable and treat them with integrity," he said.

For Starboard, a channel-only approach to the market comes naturally, Chen added. The company's founders and top executives are former executives of companies as Compellent, LeftHand Networks, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

"We're 100 percent channel-oriented," he said. "We're doing like we did at companies like Compellent and LeftHand, and combining the best of all of them. We have the structure to manage the channel through the entire process."

The company already has 30 channel partners that purchase its storage products through a single distributor, Promark. One of those solution providers is Condor Storage, Sedona, Ariz. Jeanne Wilson, president of Condor Storage, said Starboard's technological approach to storage was important, especially for her customers with large virtualized environments.

"I like their unified storage approach encompassing CIFS, NSF, iSCSI and Fibre Channel in a single system," she said. "They're all about auto load balancing, mixed workload storage pools and dynamic pooling, all of which leads to double the performance at half the cost of other storage equipment."

However, the deciding factor was the company's approach to the channel. "A 100 percent channel strategy is a requirement for us," Wilson said.

Starboard, while a new company, has its roots in RelData, a developer of much of the technology used in the AC72, Chen said. Starboard's primary investor, Germany-based Grazia Equity, also was the primary investor in RelData, he said. He declined to specify how much funding Starboard has received.