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Q&A: Why Acopia didn't get a Christmas card from Network Appliance or EMC

CEO says file virtualization company is winning over big customers, but some storage vendors see it as "Antichrist."

By , NetworkWorld.com
January 17, 2007 06:01 PM ET
Chris Lynch

NetworkWorld.com - File virtualization company Acopia is no longer a start-up. The Lowell, Mass., outfit, launched five years ago and backed by $85 million in venture funding, has been shipping its boxes since 2004 and winning over customers such as Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch. The company also is taking dead aim at storage stalwarts such as EMC and Network Appliance. CEO and President Chris Lynch met recently with Network World Executive News Editor Bob Brown. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:

What are your ARX switches actually replacing?

By design, nothing changes. We plug into the Layer 2 distribution fabric and the NAS devices still hang off the Cisco network and we plug in, almost like a one-armed device. We're a proxy for all file access, so the transactions between the client and backend look the same. We're arbitrating resources and adding a layer of intelligence -- through metadata -- to enable policies to better manage that backend. When you create this virtualization layer you're severing the physical connections between the clients and backend. From an operational perspective, you no longer need to touch the backend when you take the clients down. On the capex side, we can do a number of things.

In a world where everything is physically mapped you will find at Fortune 1000 companies an aggregate utilization rate of about 30% of their storage. That's because every application or business unit has its own storage and there's no way to spread those resources over who needs them. Once you create this virtualization layer we're able to pool that storage and increase the utilization rate, recapture storage for customers and reprovision on-demand.

The other impact we have is to allow customers to efficiently and dynamically tier the storage. We found at these large companies that not only is the storage underutilized, but also it's one big tier of the expensive stuff. It's not that they don’t know the other stuff exists, but because the provisioning in the physical world is manual and disruptive, it's more trouble than it's worth to move it.

I can't imagine storage companies would be thrilled about customers using their arrays more efficiently…

IBM is thrilled about it because they are a systems company and they just OEM NetApp storage. That's tactical for them. They're a data management company, so they love what we do because they have all these policy assets they can now enforce through the fabric of the network leveraging our APIs. But you're right, I did not get a Christmas card this year from [Network Appliance President] Tom Mendoza or [CEO] Dan Warmenhoven, or [EMC CEO and President] Joe Tucci for that matter.

The big storage companies have been investing in and developing all sorts of management and virtualization technologies. They really consider you guys a threat?

Network Appliance is most threatened because all they do is sell spindles. EMC is threatened less, but they're threatened because they view it as we're taking this high ground that controls sort of what they do and at some level commoditizes it. More  important is our strategic positioning in managing it.

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