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Maxta comes out with software-only, hyper-converged storage

Startup Maxta ships storage software that can replace a traditional SAN for VM storage by aggregating capacity and compute on commodity servers.

Maxta Inc. came out of stealth today with software that replaces a traditional SAN by aggregating storage and compute on standard servers into a resource pool available to virtual machines.

Maxta CEO Yoram Novick said the Maxta Storage Platform (MxSP) eliminates the need for a standalone SAN or a network-attached storage (NAS) array by taking advantage of unused resources that many companies already own. He said MxSP works with any server, hypervisor, disk drive or flash storage.

Maxta can aggregate any storage seen by a hypervisor, taking volumes not assigned by other applications. "We take all storage resources not allocated and create one Maxta storage pool with one global namespace," Novick said. "It appears as one big storage pool."

MxSP eliminates the need for much of the traditional storage management, such as provisioning logical unit numbers and volumes.

The software has built-in storage management features, such as thin provisioning, inline deduplication and compression, remote replication, unlimited snapshots and zero-copy clones.

Maxta's initial target use cases for MxSP are midmarket and small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as storage for enterprise remote offices, test/development, disaster recovery and virtual desktop infrastructure.

The startup has yet to release pricing, but Novick said it is a capacity-based license model with customers charged for how many terabytes they manage.

MxSP is the latest form of hyper-converged storage to hit the market. It can be seen as a software-only version of hyper-converged storage systems sold on appliances by Nutanix, SimpliVity, Scale Computing and Pivot3.

Maxta is also similar to VMware's virtual SAN (vSAN) software, which clusters hard drive and flash storage capacity from ESXi hosts and uses the pool for virtual machine placement. VSAN, which only supports VMware hypervisors, is still in beta.

The biggest challenge for Maxta could be its software-only nature. Despite all the talk about software-defined storage, many organizations remain reluctant to implement full-blown SANs without including the underlying hardware as part of the purchase.

"Historically, software-only storage products have not done well," said Henry Baltazar, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "People still like to deploy appliances, so it makes sense why vendors like Nutanix and SimpliVity went out with appliances. People like appliances for simplicity and ease of management. But there are some advantages to software-only offerings. You can spin up things faster and there are cost advantages with commodity hardware. "

Baltazar said large enterprises and service providers already have servers with spare resources and maintenance/support contracts. "So why not go the software route? It's less of a risk for them," he said.

Baltazar said the emergence of more software-defined storage applications from larger vendors such as EMC's ViPR could change buying attitudes. Still, he suggested Maxta pursue OEM or reseller deals with hardware vendors to bring MxSP to market.

Maxta's Novick said the company is considering those types of partnerships that could make MxSP available on hardware bundles.

Novick said the startup has 20 employees and $10 million in funding. Novick's previous storage startup was heterogeneous replication vendor Topio, which NetApp acquired for $160 million in 2006.

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