Former Apple Team Raids the Mac Storage Industry

A team of former Apple employees has formed a startup company to pick up where Apple left off with RAID 5 storage. Active Storage in Torrance, California is building and delivering XRAID, a powerful RAID 5 system especially designed for Macintosh customers with up to 16 TB of storage in a sleek 3U case.

Alex Grossman was the former senior director of hardware servers and storage at Apple and pioneered Appleis well received Xserve/RAID system that brought considerable pain to the competition for its combination of price, quality and storage capacity. TMO interviewed Mr. Grossman, now CEO of Active Storage, to find out more about his new company.

The void left in the market after Apple formally got out of the RAID storage business was an obvious one to fill. Mr. Grossman, who came from Micronet before he joined Apple, has had a long career specializing in storage. So filling that new hole in Appleis product lineup was an obvious thing to do.

Mr. Grossman set about building a first class team, and that included some engineers who were thinking about leaving Apple for various reasons. No pilfering of talent was allowed.

The team spent about a year, working in secret, designing and building the prototype based on the best RAID stack available. The exact details still remain a trade secret, but Mr. Grossman told TMO that we would recognize the name of the supplier if we heard it. In fact, since the design is considerably newer that Appleis original Xserve/RAID, some major improvements in the technology were possible.

The key to the XRAID system, which can hold up to 32 TB of RAID 5 storage, is the way it caters to the traditional Mac user. There are no geeky command line set up functions, and Mr. Grosssman told TMO that the set up and user interface is even easier than Appleis original system. One can even access the XRAID from an iPhone.

"The Active Storage XRAID is the next stage in storage for Apple users. From the onset, our goal was to capture the great innovative spirit of the Apple Xserve RAID, but to also update the concept utilizing the latest storage technology available. It was important to us to put user input on management and performance in the forefront," Mr. Grossman said.

The Macintosh Way

The XRAID, unlike some other products that just donit "get" the Macintosh way of doing things, exploits the full spectrum of Apple technologies. According to Active Storageis press release, XRAID offers the "first true native Mac OS X storage management suite, featuring Bonjour discovery, a Cocoa-developed monitoring application, a Cocoa Admin Application, a Dashboard Widget, and an iPhone management App."

"This rich suite of management tools allows simplified setup and management, making the Active Storage XRAID usable out of the box for even the most complex Xsan or multi-server installations in a matter of minutes. Additionally, the systems deliver outstanding performance without the complex and cumbersome scripts other systems require."

Over the summer, Active Storage has been working with key customers, quietly putting systems into place for testing before going fully public on October 14. Now that word is getting out, customers who loved Appleis Xserve/RAID are likely to be clamoring for what is essentially the next generation of the product. "When we first saw the Active Storage XRAID we knew we found a perfect replacement for the discontinued Apple Xserve RAID. We had been looking for an elegant and easy to use RAID, offering an outstanding hardware feature set, built by some of the best storage engineering minds anywhere. And with the Active Storage XRAID we get all of that," David W. Gohara, Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. recently told Active Storage.

One of the new technologies, not available in the original Apple product, is the extensive instrumentation that allows for a very detailed statistical analysis of the utilization of the XRAD. Every possible operational metric can be monitored and reported, not only for performance optimization but also for maintenance operations.

"Our goal is to make hard things easy," Mr. Grossman said.

The XRAID is now available now for orders. The system starts as low as US$10,999 for a 6 TB RAID 5 system, and other configurations are available.

Now that the word is out, these units are selling fast, Mr. Grossman told TMO. So what started out as a gaping hole in Appleis product line has turned out to be a next generation system from some of the same people who developed the original Apple Xserve/RAID. Finally, all is right with RAID 5 storage in the Apple universe.