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Analysis

Pivot3's RAIGE over data storage speed and expansion carries an innovation lesson
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 26th May 2009
Copyright Bloor Research © 2009
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Stating the obvious, not all data usage is the same. A search involves reading masses of data but with a negligible amount of writing. An interactive database application typically has a heavy mix of reading and writing—and streaming applications need a massive amount of sequential writing usually without much reading required. One such is surveillance video capture.

In case you hadn't noticed, video surveillance is now pretty common here in the UK—and you will probably have been noticed (captured) by a few video cameras in town or at work this week alone. The video output comes from mega-pixel image cameras running continuously, and the problem to address is how to get that data onto disk storage at the speed it is being captured.

Pivot3 is not well-known in the mainstream of data storage and protection, but that is because the company specialises in data streaming storage—particularly video surveillance output—where it is the fastest growing vendor in the market.

Here, reading data back is a rarity because, unless something needs investigation, information retrieval is not needed. So most video data is just stored for a finite period measured in days or weeks then discarded or archived offline.

The main—we might say pivotal—part of the Pivot3's solution is ‘RAIGE'; a word combining RAID (RAI) and Gigabit Ethernet (GE). Effectively it deploys RAID striping but extends this across clustered Ethernet-connected RAID arrays in an iSCSI SAN; so it is an unusual form of storage virtualisation which makes multiple arrays act as one. The company says this alone yields about a 9% capacity improvement through different striping. It also yields massive bandwidth through the clustered capability and, also very important, simplified management.

The writing speed is achieved by using its proprietary RAIGE approach to write data in parallel, fanning the data out across multiple arrays to achieve aggregated bandwidth suited to very high-speed streaming. "Instead of a pipe out of a switch it scales out," Lee Caswell, Pivot3's founder and chief marketing officer told me.

Equally important is that the appliance needs to be usable by inexperienced persons such as security staff. This is handled by built in high availability and appliance failure tolerance, a simple-to-use fast rebuild (the parallel aggregation maintaining performance even as volumes grow) and the ability to add capacity with automated load balancing with no need to take the cameras down. Much work has also been done on ensuring an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. As a result, Caswell told me, "The less the people know about [the technology] the easier it is to sell."

Pivot3 uses SATA drives—not the highest performance but economical on space with a low price per GB, while all the products are commodity. What is more unusual is that it runs server applications on the IP SAN hardware, what the company calls ‘Pivot3 Serverless Computing', and this saves in rack space, power and cooling—so achieving low operational costs.

It transpires that competitive pricing is crucial. Companies including IBM and EMC can offer solutions which achieve comparable performance but "if you care about cost we can win" he said.

In the same vein of keeping things simple, the company recently announced its latest network video recorder (NVR) recovery feature. This automatically restarts applications such as video management systems, access control, and video analytics after a server failure using a virtual machine and providing access to previously recorded video. (A few minutes of video downtime before recovery may mean lost video footage, but this is not serious unless a crime is being committed at that very time!)

Pivot3 has an open systems approach which allows its storage to work with different camera, software and service providers.

The UK now has the highest density of video surveillance cameras in the world, so the recent arrival of Pivot3 from the US is a logical move. At the moment Caswell said the company has plenty of work servicing its narrow markets—primarily surveillance and gaming—but, clearly, this technological approach has wider applicability.

With 2TB SATA drives close and faster Ethernet speeds available, future expansion can go several ways. (I would guess solid state disks will be some way away even if prices plummet because their particular weakness is a slow write speed!)

This may be a niche market, but I think Pivot3's approach provides a lesson to some more mainstream storage vendors in how innovation can address storage expansion, speed and cost-reduction issues.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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