Well, after getting /.’d yesterday this is bound to be an anti-climax. But I scoured the exhibition show floor the coolest products at SNW last night and found three contenders.

The first is Wasabi Systems the maker of a small (~1″x 3″) flash drive loaded with software that plugs into a motherboard’s IDE port and turns an ordinary pizza box server into either a NAS device, an IP-SAN device or both, with a software RAID module as an option. This all runs on Wasabi’s proprietary version of BSD, called Wasabi Certified BSD (please, let’s not get into a flame war about BSD vs Linux or GPL vs BSD licensing – I’m not endorsing or dissing either — just reporting). What’s cool is that in a few minutes a standard server (get Wasabi’s support list here) can become a NAS or iSCSI device. This is a natural for the SMB market where cost-effectiveness, ease of use and implementation speed are critical. It looks like DataCore’s SanSymphony product done right, i.e. on a stable Unix base.

Next on the list a company called Index Engines that “indexes data at wire speeds” or at “up to” 2Gbit/s all the data from your backup software (NetBackup, NetWorker, Tivoli Storage Manager) as it goes off to disk or tape. The indices are about 8% the size of the original data, so a server with 1TB of storage can index about 12TB of data. They claim to do full content indexing of more than 80 different document types, including pdf, doc, xls, pst and Exchange. Plus you can cluster up to 64 Index Engines together “providing unified search results for over 4 billion documents” (do I sense a 32-bit document address space here?). You access a Google-like interface through a browser to search.

While I am not crazy about the apparent requirement to index the data as it is backed up, I do believe this concept will help hasten the long overdue death of hierarchical file systems and the folder metaphor they support. Search and metadata extensions (such as IE’s indices) aren’t just the coming thing, they are the only thing, IMHO.

And finally, partly on the basis of the best and most extensible elevator pitch I’ve heard in a long time, Availl’s Wide Area File System. They claim that “No matter where users are, or how many open the same file at the same time, Availl ensures that only one user has read/write control.” Sounds like Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” take on entangled quantum particles, but they stress that their byte-level differencing technology is what keeps bandwidth requirements to a minimum and latency low. All data is stored locally, presumably only the lock/unlock commands and byte differences get communicated, so data access is very fast. They mirror all the data in the WAFS across all the sites, so users can operate even when the network is down.

As to which is the coolest — well, you can decide for yourself. I like the Wasabi product best and plan to learn more about it. My biggest question: if it is as easy to use and configure as they say, why not sell a version directly to end-users to plug into already owned servers?