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KOM Networks Transforms ILM market

by Mark Cox

Information lifecycle management (ILM) is clearly a hot topic of the day. Some might even say over-hyped. EMC has staked out a profile in the area, and some of its Tier One competitors have announced, or are about to announce, road maps for their own solutions.

KOM Networks, a Kanata ON-based company of about 50 people, is smaller than these companies. But it also has something they don't have yet. A product -- specifically a product that does end-to-end automated ILM today.

KOM Networks (the KOM are the initials of the firm's original founder) has been around since 1969, and under its present management since 1989, when it began developing software to manage optical storage for Digital VAX systems. Back then, archiving data onto optical storage in the proprietary operating systems of the day required changing the device driver and rewriting the application to access the data. They wrote a product that provided device independence to make this rewriting unnecessary.

Another product designed for VAX systems became the ancestor of their present ILM line. Another VAX problem was that although optical storage stored vast amounts of information, the file systems for VAX didn't accommodate enough file names for large amounts of storage, which limited the optical storage on each piece of media

"So KOM Networks added virtual file space, to let you pick media from wherever it is and access it like it was on line all the time," said Dan Tanner, the company's Vice President of Business Development. "It created Virtual Disks from optical media."

Tanner said that as VAX began to decline, the product was ported over to UNIX, where it became the company's Optiserver Automated Library Driver. Six years ago it was again ported, this time to the Windows environment, where it became OptiStorm, which featured device transparency, unlimited volume and the ability to combine the advantages of optical storage with the access, convenience and functionality of hard disk drives.

The ILM solution, the KOMworx Data Manager, was introduced in 2001, and features OptiStorm as its engine.

"Using a policy-based wizard, it makes it possible for the administrator to direct where the storage goes," Tanner said. It aggregates all Host-, LAN- and SAN-attached storage into a single Virtual Volume with automatic provisioning of resources, and places files on the most appropriate, cost-effective storage resource at any pre-defined point in the file's lifecycle.

"It automates it so that data has different values over its life cycle and allows administrator support with whatever hardware is needed."

KOM Networks wasn't the only smaller company who got into this area before it became high-profile this summer, but Tanner thinks they are the only one that survived. "Other companies had similar ideas, but they failed to gain traction," Tanner said. "They had no sustained product behind them, were tied to hardware, had ownership problems or were just hit by the down business cycle. They're all gone now. On the other hand, we benefited from a sustained revenue base from our legacy optical products."

KOM Networks, like most players in the managed storage space, sees the new regulatory requirements in the wake of Enron and similar scandals as essential to the rise in interest in ILM.

"In the last few months, our product is now recognized as making archiving part of the lifecycle," Tanner said. "It used to be misidentified as just 'old stuff,' but now regulations make it very important."

Of course with the increased recognition has come attention to the area from the Tier One vendors, which can be problematic for KOM Networks, which while consistently profitable, is a small company without a large promotional budget. The whole storage management area is somewhat arcane, and Tanner said that EMC and Cisco have replaced IBM in successfully sowing FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) among risk-averse customers contemplating buying any other product.

And yet, Tanner thinks his company is well positioned. It can offer a complete product, today. It can also do it for less, a lot less than the Tier Ones.

"KOMworks starts at $7,000 and the largest configuration is under $100,000 fully blown," Tanner said, noting that EMC's Centera solution, the first product for fixed content archiving from their larger competitors to make it to market, is several times that.

"Price is very important. We are also fully open, have no hardware agenda, and customers don't lose their file interface. It's also very easy to use, and it improves file I/O."

KOM Networks also has an advantage in that their product is pitched at the mid-market, a place where competitor vendor offerings are not yet strong, and which most acknowledge is several years from penetration by their products. KOM Networks goes to market through a hybrid strategy, using both hardware and software partners, VARs, consultants who recommend the product, and a direct sales force.

"KOMworks democratizes storage management, for people using Windows," Tanner said. "We can handle enterprise-wide storage management, but we target everyone outside small business, especially the mid-market and departments in large enterprises."

They are also looking at new ways to get the product to market.

"We're considering putting the product on a hardware appliance, and are in preliminary discussion stages with an appliance provider," Tanner said. "We'd also like to partner with some of the larger vendors, and we're working on that.

Source: eChannelLine Canada

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