Black box for the enterprise protects data from terrorists, hurricanes

Start-up Axxana offers unique approach to disaster recovery

A new disaster-recovery vendor is taking the concept of an airplane black box and adapting it to the enterprise to create a new way of protecting crucial data from natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

A new disaster recovery vendor is taking the concept of an airplane black box and adapting it to the enterprise to create a new way of protecting crucial data from natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Axxana, an Israeli company whose CTO is a former IBM master inventor, says it has embedded flash memory into a 400-pound box designed to survive fires reaching 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, earthquakes, 30 feet of water, 500 pounds of pressure – essentially anything short of a nuclear bomb. Fitted with a wireless modem, antennas and batteries, the box can transmit data wirelessly after disasters even if it cannot be physically accessed.

"I think it's very telling of the times we live in that we would consider products of this type," says analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. Taneja says a business in New Orleans worried about hurricanes or one in Manhattan wary of another terrorist attack might certainly be interested in Axxana's technology, which is called the Phoenix – like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

Axxana is exiting stealth mode on Monday, and says it will deliver its product early next year.

Just as important as the black box is Axxana's method of bridging the gap between synchronous and asynchronous mirroring, developed by CTO Alex Winokur, who was named a "master inventor" while with IBM and developed technology for storage start-up XIV, which was purchased by IBM this year.

Axxana CEO Eli Efrat explains that with asynchronous mirroring a business can replicate data to another site no matter how far away, but some bits of data could be lost. With synchronous mirroring, no data is lost but you're limited by distance to about 45 miles, application performance can be affected, and it may cost more than some enterprises are willing to spend.

Efrat likens Axxana's approach to bypassing the speed of light, arguing that Phoenix essentially provides synchronous mirroring at any distance. Say you want to replicate data from New York to Los Angeles. An Axxana customer would use asynchronous mirroring just as usual, but those lost bits of data that don't make the trip from New York to Los Angeles are stored on the Phoenix black box, the company says.

"The box doesn't retain a complete copy of the data, it only retains what’s needed between asynchronous and what would be synchronous" Efrat explains.

The idea may seem simple, but Efrat says it wasn't possible before flash memory became mainstream. Obviously, the black box needs storage resistant to shocks and sudden movement. Axxana is using a 73GB flash drive from STEC, which Efrat says makes the only 3.5-inch form factor flash memory that would be resilient enough and fast enough.

If the Phoenix black box can be physically accessed after a disaster, the customer grabs the data from an Ethernet port. If it can't be physically accessed, the box will transmit the data over a 3G or faster wireless network. Even customers who aren’t doing any mirroring might want the black box for backups simply because of its extreme survival capabilities, Winokur says.

The real question may be this: How do you know the box will survive? Axxana officials say they have several patents pending on Phoenix, but they consider most details on its construction to be confidential.

Taneja says the next 12 months will be critical for Axxana in convincing customers its black box is up to the task. If a customer wants to test Phoenix, “what do I do? Do I bomb it? Do I create a hurricane?” Taneja asks. Ultimately, a customer has to "believe in [Axxana's] testing because when the event does happen, if it didn't work, it's too late," he adds.

While the Phoenix is conceptually similar to an airplane black box, it is more complicated in some ways, having the wireless modem and batteries, Efrat says. But Axxana was also able to make Phoenix much heavier than an airplane black box because there's no danger of it weighing down a plane.

Efrat, who was previously CEO of mobile instant-messaging vendor MessageVine, said Axxana is in talks with major storage vendors to make sure Phoenix can work in conjunction with their products. Axxana is also speaking with potential customers and finding interest in financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, retail and government.

Efrat was vague on pricing, saying only that Phoenix will cost "six figures, yes, but not seven." Axxana contends Phoenix will save organizations money, because businesses that use asynchronous mirroring often pay for very expensive communication lines to minimize data loss.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022