Challenging Microsoft, Startup AutoVirt Fixes Windows Data Migration Nightmares

10/10/08Follow @wroush

If you’ve ever had to replace your home computer, you know what a hassle it can be to copy your most important software and data from the old computer’s hard drive to the new one. The IT-industry term for this process is “data migration”—and it’s even more of a headache for system administrators at big companies than it is for average PC owners. But AutoVirt, a Nashua, NH, startup that’s expected to come out of stealth mode next week, has a solution for the problem—at least for companies that use Windows-based computer networks.

In a nutshell, the company’s technology uses a form of virtualization to trick an organization’s client computers into thinking that they are communicating with the same old storage system, even if it’s brand new. Investors seem to think the idea is a good one: AutoVirt will also announce next week that it has collected $4.5 million in Series A funding from Boston and Menlo Park, CA-based Sigma Partners and Waltham, MA-based Kepha Partners. [[Editor's note: Turns out this is the same money the company announced back in January as a $4 million Series A round, plus a $500,000 seed round.]] AutoVirt CEO Klavs Landberg, a veteran of Sun Microsystems and Data General, says he sees an opportunity for his company to outmaneuver Microsoft, which he says created the data migration problem in the first place by setting up such a convoluted system for naming the various devices on a network.

The problem, as Landberg describes it, is that when a company buys the equivalent of a new hard drive for its office network (they’re usually called “network-attached storage” or NAS devices), putting it into production is far more than just a matter of replicating the old data Every machine that communicates with the device must be reprogrammed with its new address and with the locations of the exact “shares” or sections of that device’s drives where it’s allowed to store data. It’s an exhausting, error-prone, entirely manual process,  Landberg says.

Weekend migration projects often spill over into the work week, causing disruptive downtime. In fact, IT administrators so despise data migration that they often overspend on storage devices that are bigger than they really need so that they never have to move anything. “Because data migration is too hard and too risky, they end up with 25 percent utilization of their NAS devices,” Landberg says. “The problem is getting worse and worse. But we are going to make it go away in its entirety.”

AutoVirt’s software is designed to be installed on a network at the same time that an organization is adding a new storage device. It functions as a virtual replica of the old device, intercepting data addressed to the old drives and sending it to the appropriate shares on the new device. It’s as if you submitted a change-of-address form to the post office, and they agreed to forward all of your mail forever; that way, you’d never have to let your friends and family know about your new address.

It sounds simple enough—but it will save so much labor that IT departments will gladly fork over $25,000 to $50,000 per installation, according to AutoVirt’s surveys of prospective customers. Landberg says that’s within the price range of the thousands of medium-sized businesses that added NAS devices to their networks over the last decade without much thought to how they’d upgrade. “Everybody, without much foresight or planning, has started buying NAS devices, which are easy to use as long as you only buy one or two,” says Landberg. “But as soon as you buy more than that, and as soon as they start getting old, it gets hard. We are the only solution built specifically for the mid-market, the part of the market that has been ignored by the industry.”

AutoVirt’s software isn’t quite ready for mass distribution: Landberg says the company will start out with an “early adopter program” in which a handful of customers will be asked to validate the system’s effectiveness in real-world environments. General availability will come sometime next year.

If Microsoft is to blame for data-migration woes, I asked Landberg what’s stopping the software giant from stepping in to solve the problem—perhaps crushing AutoVirt in the process. “All of my investors ask that question,” he said. “The answer is that, of course, over time, Microsoft can do any dang thing they want—they have and they will.”

But in the area of virtualization, Landberg believes, Microsoft is “totally focused on putting VMware out of its misery. They are putting their entire virtualization budget into reclaiming lost ground in server virtualization, and taking back control of that technology. From my perspective, that leaves them no attention span to pay attention to us.”

Even if Microsoft decided to address the data migration problem today, Landberg says, “It would take them two years to put a program together—such is the decision-making process inside Microsoft post-Bill Gates.” And AutoVirt plans to achieve a commanding lead before then—big enough that Microsoft might decide to negotiate rather than fight. “By the time Microsoft comes back from the VMware wars,” predicts Landberg, “they will discover that AutoVirt has invaded their space and taken the position they should have—which will lead to a very interesting set of discussions and possibilities.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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    Well, I feel sorry for the investors who decided to fund this adventure. People who are really serious about storage and backup etc., are not using Windows file servers anyways. 90% of these companies use servers like Netapp,HP, IBM etc. So that would mean that AutoVirt is not serving 90% of the market anyways. And of the remaining 10%, not everybody cares. Storage is cheap to the extent that most of the home users simple plug in a new bigger device.
    There is a reason that Microsoft is not spending its resources on war that is not worth fighting for them. And way Autovirt has built its solution, most of the administrators are going to be very hesitant to deploy it.
    Good luck,,,,,