Astute Networks Improves Products; Seeks Partners

The flash memory storage vendor seeks partners willing to use its appliances in environments with existing systems from other makers. By James E. Gaskin

Astute Networks Inc., based in San Diego, has improved its ViSX flash memory-based storage appliances and now actively searches for more resellers to carry the company's message forward to customers in the $3.5 billion iSCSI storage market.

Flash memory systems have a great reputation for performance, but still have the bad reputation of high price, says Astute Networks' (now former) Senior VP of Marketing Len Rosenthal. "The prices are dropping substantially," he says. "Taking the street price of $5 per gigabyte, our deduplication feature stretches storage to an effective price of $1 or $2 per gigabyte. That's cheaper than 16k drives, and about the same price as 10k drives."

When Astute launched its AstuteNET partner program last November, nine resellers were on board. Now there are about 45 partners, all in North America, since the company currently only sells domestically. "We hope to have 80 to 100 partners by the end of this year," says Rosenthal.

Dealer support programs include a marketing event with every partner in every quarter, all at Astute's expense. Joint marketing efforts include mail blasts that send prospects to a landing page run jointly by the regional partner and Astute, so the reseller gets the leads directly, not filtered by the manufacturer.

Formalized training for both systems engineers and sales personnel is usually done live, but there is an online option. And partners get customized portals to Astute as part of their market development funds program.

VDI, GOVERNMENT, AND HEALTHCARE
Resellers in the virtual desktop arena should be comfortable with Astute Networks, since about 30 percent of the company's deployments support VDI. Other strong suits for the ViSX flash storage systems include I/O-bound applications such as Oracle and SQL databases. Management software FlashWRX from Astute is available, although the systems work with VMware's VCenter and look like any other iSCSI target. State and local government verticals have responded well to Astute, says Rosenthal, as well as many healthcare clients.

While every flash appliance maker touts speed, Rosenthal believes Astute Networks has the lead in the market. "We put a custom ASIC chip in every unit called the Data Pump engine." By offloading all iSCSI and TCP processing chores from the CPU, Astute Networks' Data Pump provides "up to 10 times the performance of other devices," claims Rosenthal.

The Data Pump chip also minimizes or eliminates the typical performance penalty of onboard deduplication processing. Combining Astute's software advances with the extra available CPU cycles provided by the Data Pump gives ViSX "zero impact from dedupe processing," says Rosenthal.

Another feature of some models of the ViSX storage appliances is the use of MLC (multilevel cell) memory storage elements rather than eMLC (enterprise MLC) solid-state disks. "[Roughly] 95 percent of our customers say that MLC is good enough, and they get a five-year lifecycle on SSDs," notes Rosenthal. Street price for MLC can be as low as $5 per gigabyte, compared with $7.50 for eMLC. MLC systems come with 480GB and 960GB SSD drives, while eMLC systems come with 400GB, 800GB, or 1.9TB drives. A total of 45TBs can be installed within a single 2U appliance. With deduplication, customers get close to 250TB of effective capacity.

Customers usually buy one or two ViSX appliances and plug them directly into an Ethernet switch (two 10-gigabit Ethernet ports are included, as well as two, 1 Gbps ports). The storage environment connection method is iSCSI, and often in a VMware shop. Along with VMware, Astute works with Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, and Red Hat RHEV.

Systems have redundant power supplies and fans. Last month, Astute released ViSX Replicator software to synchronous or asynchronous replication to remote sites for redundancy.

Astute Networks looks to complement, not replace, spinning disk systems in customer data centers, says Rosenthal. "We follow a coexist strategy, working with partners willing to work with existing Dell and EMC and other systems, rather than try to replace them."