A start-up created by three engineers from Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems intends to help large businesses manage their data centres that way web giants, such as Google, do. DriveScale, formed by the guys from the server makers, has developed a software and a network adapter that according to them can create pools of servers and hard drives as needed.

The company received a total of $15 million (₹99.85 crore) in Series A financing from two venture capital firms and Ingrasys, the IT arm of Foxconn that makes and helped design the network adapter. Former Sun luminaries Scott McNealy and James Gosling are advisors to the start-up.

DriveScale is a rare start-up in a field dominated by consolidating giants. It believes it serves a small but rapidly growing niche of users running hundreds of nodes of Linux servers in parallel clusters using Hadoop. “It’s not an enormous market but it is growing at more than 60% a year,” said DriveScale CEO Gene Banman, former GM of Sun’s workstation group.

The start-up will compete with giants including server maker Dell that is expected to close this fall a $67 billion (₹4.46 lakh crore) deal to merge with storage array maker EMC, owner of virtualisation pioneer VMWare. In December, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise released its own suite of systems and software called Synergy, geared to let users create flexible pools of computers and drives.

“We’ve seen a handful of tier ones talk about a composable [data centre] infrastructure, [but] they are targeting traditional applications at a lower scale,” said Banman. “We are focused on users with clusters of 100-1000 Hadoop nodes.”

The company’s virtualisation software runs mainly on a standard server set aside for data centre management. It requires a 1U 10Gbit/s Ethernet system that effectively bridges to an Ethernet network the serial-attached SCSI (SAS) data from hard disks in a JBOD array.

The adapter uses fairly standard parts: an LSI SAS controller, a Broadcom XLP network processor and a basic management controller from TI. Each adapter delivers 80Gbits/s aggregate throughput, enough to handle an array of up to 80 drives.

DriveScale's adapter Figure 1: DriveScale's adapter translates SAS data from up to 80 drives onto an Ethernet network. (Image: DriveScale)

“We let users use their favourite computer and storage vendors, but get better utilisation,” said Banman, noting some data centres report CPU utilisation below 20%. Giving users the flexibility to quickly define hardware configurations as needed for new apps is a key aspect of DriveScales’ value, added Tina Nolte, director of product management for the startup.

The adapter itself lists for $6,000 (₹3.99 lakh). The company expects to make most of its revenue from software and services sold on an annual subscription basis for $2,000 (₹1.33 lakh) per server and $20 (₹1,331) per drive. After reading papers about Google’s data centre network and watching the rise of Hadoop and 10GE, founders Satya Nishtala and Tom Lyon tested their concepts for a year. The pair had worked on Sparc-based systems at Sun before joining Nuova, a Cisco venture that developed the networking giant’s first servers.

Nishtala and Lyon brought on another former Sun colleague as the third founder and head of engineering. Duane Northcutt invented Sun’s thin client, SunRay, before going on to work as CTO at a handful of chip companies including Silicon Image.

“It takes decades of experience in production-grade server, storage and networking technology development to create something that actually simplifies provisioning and creates new efficiencies, rather than make it all more complicated,” said former Sun CEO Scott McNealy.

DriveScale is keeping mum on its roadmap. However, it plans to support environments beyond Hadoop, to roll products supporting future Ethernet data rates and to add more virtualisation capabilities.