Adaptec and SNAP: Let the Joyous Wedding Begin

Adaptec and SNAP have found each other—and that bodes well for all of us

Adaptec is acquiring SNAP Appliances. This is no longer news, as the nuptials were announced over a week ago. I, for one, plan to buy stock after the wedding is complete. This is, in part, because I know both the bride and the groom. I know what each has accomplished alone and I am very confident in what they can develop together. This is no Britney Spears-weekend-long-Las Vegas-style marriage: both companies know exactly what they are getting into.

Like many folks, my first experience with Adaptec was when I went to put my first SCSI device into a first generation PC (you know the ones, less than 5 MHz processor, 640K of RAM, two-floppies or a 10 MB hard drive if you had the coin). Adaptec provided a card that let me sling my first real mass storage device off the little fellow: an Iomega Bernoulli Box that provided exchangeable media for storing spillover data or even entire applications and their associated data sets until I needed to use them.

Later, when disk prices fell, I built my first RAID array using a JBOD created from an old case and a bunch of drives I had sitting around. The direct-attached array became a single entity, with its stored contents well protected, through the magic of an Adaptec RAID HBA. The array performed flawlessly and I kept it alive, with periodic re-driving and occasional flash ROM upgrades to the Adaptec firmware, for nearly eight years.

In the late 1990s, I was doubly delighted to work on a white paper for Adaptec that described its burgeoning EtherStor products. I say “doubly” because the effort afforded me the opportunity to play around with one of the progenitors of what we now call iSCSI, which was viewed at the time as a burgeoning alternative to Fibre Channel. Moreover, I got to rub shoulders with folks at Adaptec, who I came to view as some of the brightest minds in the business.

Adaptec appealed to me because their view of Fibre Channel at the time was prophetic. They saw the Fibre Channel Industry Association as a heavy-handed bunch who were proffering a dead-end technology for interconnecting storage into SANs.

The cynical could argue that this view was based on FC’s threat to Adaptec’s dominant position in parallel SCSI, but that would not have explained Adaptec’s embrace of IP. Many things I saw and heard convinced me that their position regarding FC wasn’t simply marketing hyperbole. The smart guys at Adaptec viewed FC as the wrong protocol going forward.

As a result, Adaptec held out a good two years longer than all the other lemmings from developing a FC product. When they finally (and grudgingly) bought a small FC HBA-maker and introduced these products to market, they were no longer the 800-pound gorilla as they had been in the parallel SCSI world, but instead a small fish in a big pond.

In effect, Adaptec was badly hurt by the delays in the finalization of the iSCSI standard by the IETF. Truth be told, if the company had released EtherStor instead of waiting for the iSCSI standard to gel, we might have seen a much larger penetration of IP SANs today.

It took them down a couple more notches when their FC adapters didn’t sell at all well against Emulex, Qlogic, and others. A lesser company might have adopted a sour-grapes tone, echoing the line from the old film "On the Waterfront:" “I could have been someone, I could have been a contender.” But that wasn’t Adaptec’s style.

Instead, Adaptec adapted. They continued to improve their offerings in both the parallel SCSI and RAID HBA space to keep the company on the radar. They showed some good old-fashioned chutzpah that reflected the experience of a seasoned player that had weathered both up and down economies. Now they are positioned with an iSCSI HBA line that rivals anything I’ve seen in the market, and they are ready for the next big push.

On the other side of the aisle in this wedding is SNAP. SNAP has been married before: founded as Meridian Data, they were acquired by Quantum Corporation in 1999, but divorced in 2000 in what I always thought was one of Quantum’s least-thought-out moves. Prior to the divorce, I had acquired two of SNAP’s smaller NAS boxes: one featuring a single disk drive housed in a square-ish enclosure, the second (which I still use) that provided two disk drives in a RAID set.

Set-up of these units was simplicity itself, using a network-based configuration screen. I beat them up with the most extreme usage you can imagine: making them repositories for peer-to-peer file sharing across the Internet (before the Napster case made this a politically incorrect thing to do). The single-drive unit eventually failed under this kind of 24x7 load for which it was not designed.

When SNAP became its own company again, I continued to track how well they were doing as a divorcee. A lot wiser (and a bit hardened) from the experience, the SNAP folks set out to conquer the world of low-cost NAS appliances. They introduced terabyte and multi-terabyte rack-mount appliances (I have one in my lab) that featured a new OS kernel and something else that was ahead of its time: iSCSI protocol support. In short order, they could boast the largest installed base in their product segment: 150,000 units in place (of which I was one).

My lab threw everything we could think of at their box. We came to describe the array in much the same way that John Cameron Swayze used to describe a Timex watch in the old commercial: The SNAP array could take a licking and keep on ticking. In fact, we had it operating with a Microsoft iSCSI initiator before Microsoft’s Enterprise Storage Group had finished testing it for compatibility with its software. It worked like a charm!

Here, then, was another company that had gone through the ups and downs of the storage life and lived to fight another day. They had acquired the character that only those who have gone through the painful process of divorce and rebuilding can truly identify. And, like the lyric in the old disco song, they had survived.

That Adaptec and SNAP have found each other bodes well for us all. Both companies have built themselves and re-built themselves in response to shifts in the market—mainly by looking out for their customers. They are in the business of supplying purpose-built storage components that address well-defined consumer needs—a key to any vendor’s success.

SNAP has stayed away from complex, overbuilt, NAS operating systems, making their products the darling of the small-to-medium business—but with a solid footprint in larger companies as well. Now part of Adaptec, they can begin fielding a new generation of platforms that will become solid performers in a variety of roles.

I, for one, am looking forward to the progeny of this new marriage. In this instance, storage futures look very bright indeed. Comments?

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.