by Ben Worthen

Company to Watch: Acirro, Solving Storage Headaches

Nov 01, 20024 mins

It’s a regular day at the office. Without a second thought, a sales manager e-mails his staff a spreadsheet with the monthly forecast, the marketing director casually distributes a PowerPoint presentation explaining a new campaign, and the CEO sends everyone in the company a picture of his kids’ new puppy. Every recipient looks at the assorted attachments once (maybe twice) and promptly forgets about them. Well, almost everybody. The network administrator watches nervously as precious storage space disappears, fires off an e-mail reminding people to delete unnecessary files, and secretly seethes when nothing happens.

But San Jose, Calif.-based Acirro hopes to help these administrators out. The company’s product, Acumula, simplifies the management of network attached storage (NAS) devices across the WAN and eliminates redundancy. But while Acirro makes a network administrator’s job easier, the target audience is actually the CIO, who can use it to reduce costs.

Acirro does two things: First it routes all the NAS devices through one Acumula server so that an administrator can view all the activity across the WAN in one place. Second, it scans the network and eliminates storage redundancy, replacing duplicate copies with meta-data links to the actual file?potentially cleaning up 80 percent of the files that still need to exist but are rarely used. “Storage is a big issue right now, and [our] message is resonating with people who have a lot of files,” says CTO Joel Harrison, who cofounded storage giant Quantum. “In the past, people would just throw hardware at the problem,” but with Acumula you can actually manage it, he says.

Acumula requires you to add more hardware to your network, but once you do, you can get performance that Brian Chee, systems programmer for the department of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, deems “spectacular.” Chee has a problem that could be viewed as a microcosm for the issues a Fortune 1000 company with multiple branch offices must endure. The university has distance learning classes that it distributes to 10 campuses on four islands. When you factor in more than 200 K-12 public schools, the university conducts distance learning with students across seven islands. Not surprisingly the connection speed varies from T1 and DS3 to 128KBps frame relay. Those performance differences can cause a problem when a multitude of users at each location is trying to access 20MB to 30MB files. With Acumula, a file can either reside locally, at the main campus, or partly at the local node; the system is smart enough to automatically fetch the remainder whenever necessary. This helps keep WAN costs down, says Chee. As an added bonus, Acumula has a single mount point, allowing professors to drag and drop a file once and have it distributed across the WAN to multiple locations.

Chee points out that the technology is still new and that there are some kinks Acirro must work out, most prominently an authentication system that works only with Microsoft’s Active Directory (the University of Hawaii uses lightweight directory access protocol). This shortcoming may be less of a problem for large companies that use the Microsoft protocol. Not surprisingly, Steve Kenniston, a senior storage technology analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group in San Jose, Calif., says that these companies are the Acirro target audience. Acumula, he says, can really help Fortune 1000 companies that have a lot of disparate NAS appliances they are not taking advantage of, although he doesn’t think this will be a billion-dollar business.

Kenniston says he believes that Acirro will pick up traction when it partners with a strong OEM such as Dell or Compaq. Harrison, however, says it could be another two years before such partnerships happen, and for the next year at least Acirro will be focused on the direct sales channel.

Acirro has been forced to make other adjustments in the meantime. To secure its second round of funding, this past July the company was required to lay off a significant portion of its workforce. As storage management becomes an ever-higher priority for most CIOs, only time will tell if this streamlining will make Acirro a winner.