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Startup Pranah launches with multiprotocol SMB storage system

Pranah comes out of stealth with a system that combines FC, iSCSI and NAS, and promises resellers 30% margins.

Pranah Storage Technologies will come out of stealth this week with a family of multiprotocol storage systems targeted at SMBs in the video production and digital imaging markets.

The newcomer's systems will support Fibre Channel (FC), iSCSI and network-attached storage (NAS) in the same box, with prices starting at less than $20,000. While the economy doesn't make this the ideal time to try to crack the storage business, Pranah CEO Steve Carter says there is an opportunity on the low end, especially among Apple customers seeking networked storage.

Pranah's 2000 series consists of three 1U controller models and three expansion pack units. The 2240 supports 4-Gbps FC and gigabit iSCSI host connectivity, as well as FC, SAS and SATA drives. The 2242 is the same except it doesn't have FC drive support, and the 2244 is iSCSI-only with SAS and SATA drives. A second controller and 10 Gigabit Ethernet is optional on all three. All the controller units hold four drives.

The 1080 expansion unit includes four FC ports and eight FC drives, the 1180 has four SAS ports and eight SAS or SATA drives, and the 3036 is a 3U unit with eight SAS ports and up to 36 SAS or SATA drives.

Thin provisioning, snapshots and NAS are included in all base models, and distributed file system (DFS) and replication support are optional.

The list price for an 8 TB iSCSI system with dual controllers is about $17,200, and a similarly configured FC system would cost about $20,400.

The biggest differentiator between Pranah's system and most low-end storage area network (SAN) systems is the inclusion of FC. Carter said that was crucial because of the markets the startup is trying to enter.

"If customers already have a SAN at the low end -- for example, a lot of Apple video production creative arts installations have 4 GB Fibre Channel – then 1 GB iSCSI doesn't cut it," he said. "We can attach to existing Fibre Channel or offer 10 GB iSCSI."

Unlike most SMB SAN and NAS systems, the Pranah boxes are not based on Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2008. "There's no Microsoft code in this box," Pranah Sales and Marketing Vice President Dave Walstad said. "We are a hardware and software company. We have IP in both."

Pranah was formerly known as Marner Micro Technologies (founded by Pranah CTO Marin Fenner), which sold a ruggedized SPARC 2 system and then began developing a SmartSAN product that turned into the Pranah 2000 series. The new company began as Marner Storage Technologies in 2005 and was re-christened Pranah (the Sanskrit word for "breath") this year.

The 25-person company, based in Stillwater, Minn., received funding in February, and Carter says he expects to close another round of funding soon, although the vendor is keeping the amount it received and its investors secret for now.

Pranah hopes to tempt VARs by promising a 30% margin for resellers, who can sell systems populated with hard drives or provide their own hard drives to customers. Its target markets are medical and records imaging, video surveillance, and video production. Carter says the company will aggressively court Apple resellers looking to fill a void since Apple stopped selling XServe RAID system last year.

Carter says Pranah has about five VARs lined up to receive field units beginning next month, and he expects an OEM deal next year with a vertical market integrator. Pranah isn't identifying any partners yet, though.

Carter says Pranah's systems have more functionality than similarly priced direct-attached storage (DAS) systems and offer FC and NAS for less money than iSCSI systems from Dell EqualLogic and Hewlett-Packard LeftHand Networks.

"It helps them that they can do both block and file out of the same device," The StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz said. "That doesn't make them unique. It does helps them differentiate from others who can do file storage but need somebody else's block services. Effectively, they have the same functionality of a low-end NetApp box or a Windows storage-enabled box."

But the markets Pranah is going after are already crowded with storage vendors, and, Schulz says, Pranah needs to keep the cost low and build up its channel quickly to succeed.

"Probably more than anything else, it's got to be easy to buy through the channel," he said. "You have to get your channel up and running fast in that space."

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