Don’t look now – but your hard disk is revolting!

Stellar Startups: Kaminario is on the leading edge of a new product that really will – and in fact, already has – revolutionized computing.

By DAVID SHAMAH
May 3, 2011 06:08
Dani Golan, cofounder and CEO of Kaminario

dani golan kaminario_58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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It’s not often you hear the word “revolutionary” in connection with, of all things, a hard-disk drive. But that is exactly the word Gareth Taube, marketing veep for Kaminario, (www.kaminario.com) uses to describe his company’s products.

With good reason, too. That’s because Kaminario is on the leading edge of a new product that really will – and in fact, already has – revolutionized computing: the Solid State Drive (SSD), a data-storage unit that can be umpteen times faster than your usual mechanical drives. (Note to geeks: I qualify that statement by adding, “depending on how the disk controller software is designed.” Happy?).

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I know all about it. I am the proud (relatively new) owner of a Macbook Air computer, which has built a real audience of solid users (as opposed to cult users) in the past couple of months, since the introduction of their latest iteration. It’s Apple’s smallest and lightest laptop ever – about a kilo and a quarter, with power supply.

On paper, its specs are not much to look at. the Air’s basic processor is either a 1.87 or 2.13 core duo Intel, the kind of thing that went out when George W. Bush was counting down the days to the end of his second term. Certainly it has a lot less power than the newest Macbooks and Macbook Pros.

Not to get into a discussion about which model (or whether a Macbook is at all appropriate in the first place) is better, but this model, with its anemic processor, is lighting fast! And there is only one possible reason: The Macbook Airs come equipped with SSD hard drives, cutting down on read/write times – significantly.

There are no moving parts, so start-up time is much faster, too. If you happen to be near one of the iDigital stores in Israel (or an Apple Store abroad), check out the Air; you won’t believe that a “toy,” as many have termed the laptop, could run in the same league as its big brothers!

How did Apple pull off a miracle like that? Well, because it’s Apple, of course – they’re known for small miracles. But apparently the Air has something that other Macbooks don’t have: a system architecture that makes efficient use of the features of the computer’s SSD. The drive just wouldn’t work as well if it were plugged into a computer that didn’t have the appropriate resources.

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By tweaking the operating system, the Macbook Air can appear to be a speedy computer, on the strength of its SSD. It’s a principle that Kaminario has applied to a much more complicated kind of system: the enterprise SSD arrays that is sells to corporations for data use, backup and storage.

The SSD hard drive is here, and it’s here to stay, says Taube, and eventually (maybe just within a few years) all laptops will feature SSD drives, with mechanical drives relegated to archiving and other back-office tasks. “In the consumer market; it’s just a matter of time,” he says.

Not necessarily in the enterprise market, though – making this one of the few times that consumer products are trumping the ones being developed for corporations. Kaminario, however, intends to change that. Established in 2008, right at the onset of the SSD revolution, the company builds and sells IT infrastructure systems for storage, applications and backup.

“Our K2 DRAM storage appliance gives enterprise users all of the benefits of SSDs, overcoming the disadvantages that many customers find when using products from other vendors,” Taube says.

One of the main reasons users – consumer or corporate – go for SSDs (even though they are currently more expensive than mechanical drives) is for their reliability. Without moving parts, the likelihood that an SSD will fail is significantly smaller than it is with mechanical drives. But not all SSDs are the same.

“Flash memory, the kind that goes into USB sticks, is not very reliable for enterprise use, as it tends to wither away with time,” Taube says. “You need DRAM for a reliable system.”

And you need redundancy – the ability to back up data automatically. Of course, traditional (i.e., mechanical drive-based) disks have been doing that for decades, but with SSD systems, he says, you get the advantage of speed and reliability, as well as redundancy. But that is exactly where Kaminario differs from its competition.

“In order to get the most out of an SSD system, you need an architecture – controlling software, resources, caches, etc. – that can make the most use of the hardware,” Taube says, and that is exactly what Kaminario has developed.

The Kaminario K2 is based on the company’s unique Scale-out Performance Storage Architecture (SPEAR), and it was built from scratch specifically for SSD use – unlike just about all of the company’s competitors, which are using 25-year-old architecture (from the days of tape backups and SCSI drives!).

It’s a scandal that Yokne’am-based Kaminario, with its several dozen employees, is determined to put an end to. The K2/SPEAR combo ensures that corporate users get the most for their money with SSDs – in terms of speed, safety and reliability.

Taube and I aren’t the only ones impressed with Kaminario’s design. The company was just named “Cool Vendor” in Storage by leading industry analyst firm Gartner, which said Kaminario’s products “can assist organizations in meeting their data-center modernization and cost-containment initiatives.”

Dani Golan, cofounder and CEO of Kaminario, said the company “was honored that Gartner recognizes the unique value that Kaminario brings to enterprises. Performance and high availability are two of the most critical requirements of the data center, and the K2 delivers both without the complexity and cost of other solutions.”

Of course, it’s what you’d expect a CEO to say. But in the case of Kaminario, the “practice” – the ability of the system to do what it promises – is at least as good as “the preach.”

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