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Ellison start-up introduces storage system

Pillar Data Systems takes on storage market with low-cost product and $150 million from Larry Ellison.

Larry Ellison's assault on the data storage market is officially under way.

Pillar Data Systems, the company into which the Oracle chief has poured $150 million of his personal funds, has come out of stealth mode this week with the launch of its first product.

The launch comes four years after Ellison's private investment firm, Tako Ventures, tapped former IBM storage executive Michael Workman to design a cheaper, easier-to-use system for storing gobs of corporate data. The goal: build a product to rival top-of-the-line systems from EMC and Network Appliance.

"In his career, (Ellison's) bought a lot of storage," said Workman, now president and chief executive officer of Pillar in San Jose, Calif. "He has a lot of respect for the incumbents. They're good companies. But he felt there was room for something more."

That "something more" is now out the door in the form of the Pillar Axiom system, a box that can store more than 300 terabytes of data, or 30 times all the text in the Library of Congress, for less than half the price of rival products, the company said.

What makes the system unique, however, is its software, according to the company. With 2.5 million lines of code, Axiom can combine several types of storage systems into one, including cheap network-attached storage and more sophisticated storage area networks, the company said. Businesses normally set up and maintain such systems separately, creating multiple pools of data, as well as complexity and cost, Workman said.

Pillar also doesn't require customers to buy additional licenses in order to add more storage capacity, a practice that's not currently the industry norm, Workman said.

The product includes a program that lets users prioritize access to data based on its relative importance. Axiom then automatically places high-priority data on the outer edge of the disc and keeps less important data on its inner tracks. The disc drive, the mechanism that fetches data, is programmed to hover over the most statistically efficient spot for retrieving data for a particular customer, the company said.

The version of Axiom that's shipping Tuesday is capable of network-attached storage. Another version, which also supports storage area networks, is expected in July. The product's starting price is $50,000 and can climb to 10 times that price depending on the size and attributes of the system, the company said.

That price puts the company in

In addition to technology, Pillar says it's focused on assembling a top-notch staff. The company has populated its management bench with former IBM executives, and its chairman is Steve Fink, head of Lawrence Investments, Ellison's fund. The company employs about 350 people, including a sales and marketing staff that could eventually support as much as $200 million in annual revenue, Workman said.

His goal is nothing less than to build the next major storage player--one of the top three or four independents in the world.

"Larry is going to have a storage company," Workman said. "He wants one."