This is the second entry in my Top-Ten in Storage series.
Not every innovative product can succeed in the market, and no matter how good some ideas seem, they can fail to make much of an impact. The truth is, people buy solutions, not technologies.
This list includes products so cool, so ahead of their time, that they just couldn’t fail. But they did.
1988 EMC Orion/Allegro
EMC’s RAM-based storage array predated and presaged its Symmetrix, offering lightning-quick I/O for very small workloads. But the Orion had a few serious drawbacks: It was astonishingly expensive, offered tiny capacity, and was never available for open systems. EMC’s initial offerings in the open systems market, Centriplex and Harmonix, also deserve mention though the company proved its worth with its “best” Symmetrix a few years later.
1985 3COM 3Server
I’ve written about the 3Server before, but let’s sum up: Before RAID, SAN, and NAS, and even before NetWare and NFS became entrenched, 3COM introduced a flexible multi-disk network storage and print server called the 3Server. It was an innovative combination of hardware and software, but it lost out to NetWare on open PC hardware in the market. Although the 3Server lasted just a few years, it made a lasting contribution to the field: Its 3+Share software became 3+Open, then LAN Manager, and was finally absorbed by Microsoft to become SMB/CIFS.
HP AutoRAID (High Availability Disk Array Model 12)
The first post-RAID virtual sprang fully-formed from the big brains at HP to challenge the industry-leading modular offerings from Data General’s CLARiiON and DEC/Compaq’s StorageWorks. It one-upped everyone with automatic relocation of LUNs between different RAID levels based on workload about a decade before Compellent, EqualLogic, and 3PAR had anything of the sort. But the AutoRAID had two key drawbacks: Like mama bear, it wasn’t big enough for big companies but was too big and expensive for little ones, and it was SCSI-only (though a Fibre Channel bridge was a common accessory). Some of the concepts lived on in the HP EVA line, but AutoRAID didn’t last long.
Microsoft Object File System (OFS)/Relational File System (RFS)/WinFS
Microsoft shoulda-coulda-woulda revolutionized file storage with nearly every major operating system release. It looks the same every time: A database/filesystem hybrid that would add structure to the vast unstructured file world. Despite the hype, we haven’t seen it yet.
Consider the typical LAN: Lots of clients with lots of hard drive space connected to a server with yet more disk capacity. Wouldn’t it be nice if the space on these clients could be used as a virtual network server? Well that’s just what MangoSoft announced in 1997, gaining much attention in the PC press. Sadly, the idea never really caught on, although MangoSoft continued. But distributed network storage has become the industry’s Brigadoon, trotted out as a new idea year after year.
This is my flop – I worked for StorageNetworks from 1999 through 2001.
StorageNetworks was launched in 1998 to provide off-premise storage and backup as an on-demand service for enterprise customers. They sought to take advantage of the emergence of high-speed Fibre Channel connectivity over metro distances to commoditize storage capacity. But only Houston (where I worked) had an acceptable infrastructure for the service, so the company changed focus to hosting centers. Then off-site backup. Then software. Nothing worked apart from vendor-independent services, and the (now public) company was shy to base its revenues on that. StorageNetworks was gone in 2003, but does the service remind anyone of Amazon S3 or Nirvanix? Maybe it was just ahead of its time.
Announced in 1999, VersaStor would have been a revolution in Fibre Channel SANs, a full out of band virtualization solution leveraging specialized HBAs directing traffic. It was continually pushed back, finally being “merged” (after Compaq) with HP’s StorageApps in-band SANLink to become CASA. But then EMC sued HP over virtualization patents, derailing CASA, and the whole mess was permanently shelved at the end of 2003.
IBM Ice Cube/Collective Intelligent Bricks Hardware
IBM rocked the storage press in 2003 with their announcement of Almaden Research’s Ice Cube concept. Instantly dubbed “Lego brick storage” (trademarks be damned!), the storage units could be stacked in two dimensions, scaling without limit. Coolest of all (literally), the bricks were chilled with water! Although the concept progressed, we still haven’t seen it. But this didn’t stop Seagate from developing a similar concept, ISE, which is now Xiotech’s main offering. IBM’s Storage Tank and VSS could have been nominated, too, but I’m not a sadist.
Revivio was the pioneer of continuous data protection (CDP), with great technology and people. But no one (other than Symantec, eventually) bought it.
Little Pirus was working on a small but scalable virtualized target when it was acquired by Sun in September of 2002. Their technology was launched as the StorEdge 6920, a mini alternative to the HDS USP in 2004, but (according to insiders) it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Sun finally pulled the plug on the 6920 in early 2007, with HDS taking over continuing support for anyone who bought the moribund product.