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Allocity Targets Microsoft Exchange

In a sector where companies try to be all things to all customers, Allocity is focusing on doing one thing and doing it well.

The start-up has designed what it claims is the first application-specific storage management system.

Allocity's Live!Ex is a self-managing, self-protecting storage subsystem engineered specifically for storing Microsoft Exchange databases.

Allocity marketing VP Nick Blozan says the company's goal is to understand a specific application and design a storage system around it. Exchange was the first application the company focused on. The start-up boasts a strong alliance with EMC.

"There's nobody else in this space," states Blozan.

The VP says Live!Ex offers "zero administration" SAN management. The subsystem is controlled from within the Exchange System Manager (ESM), so there is no separate user interface to learn, no complicated technologies to master, and no complex configuration to go through.

"We provide all the benefits of a SAN, with none of the headaches," he told Enterprise Storage Forum.

Live!Ex automatically creates, monitors, and manages all volumes associated with the Exchange environment. It adds volumes as needed from a "free pool" of physical storage.

The system also provides instant, transparent backup, fast restores, and disaster recovery.

John Abbott, chief analyst at The 451 Group, says "there's definitely a huge problem for Microsoft Exchange users looking to manage an expanding number of mailboxes and perhaps considering a shift over to storage area networks (SANs) as well. Exchange wasn't built with distributed storage considerations in mind," although he points out that Microsoft now endorses SAN and NAS storage as acceptable storage architectures for Exchange, in addition to DAS.

"It's hard for Exchange administrators to do such things as expand LUNs, carry out mailbox-level restores, set RAID levels, and size log volumes," Abbott told ESF. "At the moment, it's common for users to over-provision from the start, whether it's needed or not, rather than face the prospects of a complicated upgrade."

Allocity brings application intelligence to SAN and handles provisioning, rapid backup and restore, space utilization, simple failover, and capacity planning, according to Abbott. Other products, like VERITAS Storage Foundation and EMC's ERM, aren't application-specific. Email management and archiving products geared for Exchange — such as KVS, Ixos, Sherpa and Tumbleweed — are gaining attention because of new compliance regulations and the trend toward Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). "Allocity could expand further up the software stack into this area in the future," Abbott says, but the company is limiting itself by focusing solely on Exchange for EMC right now. Allocity does have plans to eventually offer HP storage support, according to Abbott, and also plans a similar product for Microsoft SQL Server.

"Eventually, Microsoft will probably provide these sort of tools itself, but it will take a number of years to get there," predicts Abbott.

Allocity Gets Raves from Ariba

Brent Putzel, IT operations manager for Ariba, is impressed by Live!Ex so far. He told ESF that the product "absolutely" lives up to expectations.

"At this point, I couldn't be happier, and frankly, the combination of EMC and Allocity unseated a very compelling HP/EVA solution that was 99% decided on," Putzel says.

Putzel feels Allocity provides two key functions: provisioning and failover.

For provisioning, Putzel says Live!Ex "takes a bit of information that I provide to it and, using its own algorithms and rule set, provisions LUNs and ensures that log files and database files are never on the same RAID group. For me, this means I don't have to be smart about setting up my storage, nor do I have to overcompensate for not being able to grow my disk space by creating huge LUNs that sit empty or underutilized."

Live!Ex "allows me to seamlessly grow my LUNs if and when I need to," Putzel continues. "In fact, it automates the process not just on the back end, but within the Windows OS as well. In our evaluation, only HP could do this with their EVA product, but it was nowhere near seamless."

Live!Ex also monitors IOPS (Input/Output operations per second) and lets users know when they need to add spindles for optimized performance, he says. "Frankly, from a provisioning, monitoring, and growth perspective, I am aware of no competing products."

For failover, Putzel states, "If I have an Exchange server that dies, I can simply go to another server and pull the affected storage groups to that server. This process takes about 10 minutes to complete, and then all the mailboxes that were formerly served by the dead server are now associated with the new server."

While others, like SteelEye and Cluster Server, provide automated failover, "none provide this functionality at this price point," Putzel says.

Pricing for Allocity Live!Ex starts at around $10 per mailbox, according to Blozan.

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