Pillar offers game plan for federal market

A new storage company is plying the federal market this summer trumpeting one simple message: enterprise-class storage costs too much.

Of course the pitch isn’t exactly new, but what’s getting Pillar Data Systems more notice than the average storage start-up is the backing of Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison, who has put about $150 million of his own venture capital money into the firm.

“Larry’s intent on making this company a real player in the storage market,” said Michael Workman, the CEO and president of Pillar, which first started shipping its Axiom Storage products in June and also got them on to a General Services Administration schedule held by storage integrator Carahsoft Technology.

The company’s game plan for making headway against the likes of large storage players like EMC and Network Appliance centers on flexibility and involves several elements, Workman said.

* The Axiom Storage system uses Serial Advanced Technology Attachment disk drives, which are less expensive than the Fibre Channel drives traditionally used in enterprise storage systems (Pillar will offer Fibre Channel drives as a higher priced option later this year). Pillar officials said Axiom with Serial ATA drives will cost 30 percent to 40 percent below competitors’ Fibre Channel-based products with similar capacity.

* The system partially offsets Serial ATA’s slower speed compared to high-end disks by storing frequently used data on the outside edge of the disk, where seek and access times are faster. It places infrequently needed data, such as archives, nearer to the middle of the disk, where performance is not as good.

* Once the storage-area network (SAN) functionality starts shipping (it’s currently in beta test), the storage system will be able to operate in a SAN-only mode, network attached storage (NAS) mode, or as a mixed SAN and NAS.

* Axiom’s management software allows administrators to create three tiers of storage offering a range of performance characteristics from a single pool of disks – the system automatically places data in the appropriate tier based on a pre-set profile.

“Our competitors will sell you a box for archive data, but then you’ll need another, more expensive product if you need storage for a transaction system,” Workman said. “We have a solution that allows you to supplant two or three systems. It’s a fungible asset.”

Workman added that unlike with other storage vendors, Pillar will not charge customers additional software licensing fees if they add hardware to increase their storage system’s capacity. The Axiom Storage system currently starts at 3 terabytes and scales up to 300 terabytes.

Carahsoft Technology President Craig Abod said that his company expects to close at least a couple of federal agency deals for 20 terabyte systems before the fiscal year winds up next month. “The cost of these products, along with the way Pillar has simplified the complexity of running SAN and NAS in one box, are the appeal,” Abod said.

To support its products, Pillar has about 50 of its 350 employees working in customer support and professional services, Workman said. The company also signed an agreement with IBM Global Services that has that company providing Pillar customers with around the clock field service and logistics support.

But the company still has work to do. Axiom support for Internet SCSI, the increasingly popular storage networking protocol, won’t be available for another year. Company officials also still plan to ink deals with a handful of government-oriented distributors and integrators.

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