Panzura Launches ANS, a Cloud-Enabled Storage Alternative to NAS

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by Jacqueline Emigh

Will cloud-based storage ever be faster and easier than earlier approaches like NAS (network-attached storage) and SANs (storage area networks)? A start-up named Panzura claims this can happen already, through a new technology the company is dubbing Application Network Storage (ANS).

The first product to use Panzura’s ANS is the Application Cloud Controller (ACC), a hardware device combining functionality that includes deep packet inspection, for analyzing the data usage patterns of software applications, and storage acceleration.

The acceleration is performed through built-in solid-state disk (SSD) drives which act as a read/write cache for eliminating the latency that can bog down cloud-based storage. Yet the ACC also provides “application awareness” through its three-layer ANS architecture, according to Randy Chou, president and co-founder of Panzura.

For applications supported by the ACC, the ANS architecture automatically analyzes data and matches it with appropriate storage tiers, using a choice of HTTP/S and several other network communications protocols to talk to the ACC’s SSDs, as well as to content delivery networks (CDNs) and public and private clouds.  Right now, the only applications supported by the ACC are NFS/CIFS and Microsoft SharePoint, but plans are already in gear to support additional Microsoft server applications, including SQL Server and Exchange. 

Although Panzura doesn’t publicly identify its customers by name, the company contends that the ACC improved SharePoint page loading performance by about 20 times over at one technology business with offices in the US and UK. There, users had previously waited as long as 50 seconds for the SharePoint home page to load.

On-board security features include hardware-based encryption, for storage of sensitive information in public clouds, as well as authentication, which can be integrated with the authentication in Microsoft’s Active Directory. Other capabilities include offline access and global data de-duplication. Panzura also partners with public storage cloud providers such as Iron Mountain, Limelight Networks, Azure, and AT&T.

With prices starting at a hefty $25,000 for a base configuration, Panzura is initially targeting large enterprises, many of which are now transitioning from private to public clouds. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a reason, however, why “application aware” technology such as ANS couldn’t be adapted in some way, over time, to suit the cloud storage needs of smaller organizations, even if Panzura never steps in an SMB direction.

After all, only a week or two ago, Seagate rolled out the Momentus XT Hard Drive. Seagate’s new “hybrid” desktop drive doesn’t support cloud-based storage. However, the XT does use artificial intelligence technology known as Adaptive Memory to automatically decide which application data should be stored in the product’s built-in solid state memory and which data on the hard disk drive (HDD), after monitoring users’ behavior to figure out their data usage patterns.

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