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Ethernet storage enters the Windows market

A young company is betting that its low-cost alternative to iSCSI and Fibre Channel will play a key role in the future of networked storage.

Burt Bennett faced the dilemma many IT managers face these days: His storage needs were growing quickly, but his budget was not.

Bennett's employer,, is a Web services provider in Bellingham, Wash. Bennett wanted to explore cheap and simple networked storage options. After doing some research, he contacted a new firm based in Athens, Ga., called Coraid Inc., and ultimately decided to go with that company's AoE (ATA over Ethernet) disk storage protocol.

"Definitely for the cost of implementation, that was hands down the most cost effective," Bennett said.

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Smaller Linux shops, like Bennett's, have been able to use the AoE technology for some time because Coraid originally targeted the Open Source community for its AoE protocol. Now Coraid is trying to pique interest in Windows shops, too.

The company recently teamed up with Ukrainian software maker Rocket Division Software (RDS) to release a Windows-supported version of AoE. RDS has added the AoE Windows Driver to its iSCSI software products. Coraid is billing the technology as a low-cost alternative to iSCSI for small to medium-sized businesses with modest storage needs.

The reason why AoE is cheaper is simple, according to Coraid's CEO Jim Kemp. AoE is just standard disks connected with standard Ethernet, said Kemp, and it eliminates many of the software and hardware components that are usually necessary when configuring a storage network with iSCSI or Fibre Channel.

AoE has come onto the market only in the last five years because the technology was not previously possible, said Kemp. Advances in Ethernet speed now make it a feasible alternative to Fibre Channel.

 [Coraid's most popular product] breaks the price grip iSCSI and Fibre Channel have on the market.
Jim Kemp, Coraid CEO,

"Had Ethernet been running at 1 Gbit several years ago, Fibre Channel would have never occurred," Kemp noted.

Kemp said Coraid's most popular product is a RAID box that holds 15 Serial ATA (SATA) disks. The platform sells for $3,995.

"This breaks the price grip iSCSI and Fibre Channel have on the market," Kemp said. AoE clients can build a 7.5 TB RAID storage system for around $1.25 per gigabyte. This is a bargain, according to Kemp, who said an iSCSI RAID box typically costs well over $2 per gigabyte.

Storage expert Dennis Martin of The Evaluator Group in Greenwood Village, Colo., said AoE is an interesting concept though he doubted it would make much impact without endorsement from Microsoft.

Coraid is currently the only vendor making AoE in the storage market, but Kemp said he has heard others are developing similar technology. For now, Kemp said he realizes AoE may be a tough sell among large enterprise clients that are more comfortable buying brand names for their storage needs.

Kemp estimates Coraid has about 300 corporate customers. With market awareness, he hopes the product has a bright future among customers looking to simplify their storage networks.


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