Zetta offers cloud storage for the enterprise

Start-up resurrects primary storage-service-provider model with cloud

Start-up Zetta Inc. Monday unveiled an enterprise-class, software-as-a-service storage business with an architecture built on proprietary systems and offering an all-inclusive service starting at 25 cents per gigabyte of storage. The service is targeted at businesses with 200 to 2,000 employees.

Enterprise-class storage service providers (SSP) of the late 1990s and early 2000, such as StorageNetworks Inc., failed because companies had concerns around security and the possibility of co-mingling of information with competitors also using the service, according to most industry observers.

Chris Schin, vice president of products at Zetta, said his company's Enterprise Cloud Storage service uses separate encryption keys for each volume of data, so that even data from different departments in the same company using the service cannot be read.

Zetta also claims its service supports all unstructured data types and offers scalable performance, enterprise-class data availability and guaranteed quality of service.

The founders of Zetta, three out of four of whom are former employees of content-sharing site, built out Zetta's data center infrastructure as a redundant array of independent nodes (RAIN). This is similar to RAID except that it stripes data across servers instead of disks and is connected in a network topology with multiple interfaces in order to increase fault tolerance.

Schin said the company is using proprietary, purpose-built primary storage software that ensures an N+3 disk parity, meaning a disk array can tolerate the failure of up to three disks without losing data. The latter technology advances separate Zetta from the likes of Web 2.0 cloud SSPs such as Amazon with its Simple Storage Service and Nirvanix's Storage Delivery Network.

"Those services tend to be for markets like the Web 2.0 developer who needs extra storage space or for a small business," but they're not for an IT professional, Schin said.

Zetta's Cloud file system offers snapshots, replication and a common name space that allows it to be easily adopted by existing users and applications. It also replicates data to geographically dispersed data centers for business continuity and disaster-recovery purposes.

Jerry Levine, head of IT at AQR Capital Management LLC, an investment firm in Greenwich, Conn., said he has been testing Zetta's Enterprise Cloud Storage for the past month and so far he likes what he sees in throughput and data availability.

Levine has a typical enterprise backup scheme, where primary data is kept on a high-end Fibre Channel storage-area network -- in this case using EMC Corp.'s arrays -- and backups are performed to a tape library. Levine said he wants to be able to offload noncritical research data from his expensive primary disk arrays to secondary storage. However, he also wants the data available in minutes and doesn't want to spend "tens of thousands of dollars" to build out his infrastructure with secondary disk systems. Levine currently manages about 100TB of data on disk.

"I take this extremely seriously. I would never put data at risk. It's just getting to the point where as great as tape technology is ... it doesn't seem like this is where we should be," Levine said. "Having to retrieve data if someone needs it -- we're talking tens of terabytes at a time -- I need something in between my primary disk and tape."

AQR Capital Management has its own dark fiber WAN attached to multiple data centers, so Levine said throughput out to Zetta has yet to be an issue, but he did voice concern over security. Even so, Levine said, "Let's say independent studies show this is safe, I've got to tell you, I live in the cloud."

"I do all my banking, all my trading, all my taxes online. If that data isn't safe, what is?" he said. "I believe the financial institutions are keeping my data safe. I don't see how this is going to be any less secure than that."

Levine hasn't committed to the service and is still waiting to see if Zetta can beat the price of rolling out secondary arrays with serial AAA disk inside them. "While for my business this [service] might be for tertiary backup, I do believe this would be an easy fit as primary data storage for smaller businesses."

Currently, Zetta's operations are based on the West Coast, and the company is not marketing itself as a primary data storage for global enterprises until it expands its physical presence. It also only offers file transfers using FTP, CIFS and NFS protocols, but expects to add the iSCSI protocol for block-based data transfers later this year.