HDS reinvents high-end arrays


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When a major hardware storage vendor says it has big news, you expect bigger iron with eye-popping specs. In that respect, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) doesn't disappoint with its new TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform (USP) product line. The three new array models--soaring to a maximum capacity of 330TB--dwarf the 84TB top ends of EMC Corp.'s DMX 3000 and IBM Corp.'s ESS 800's 56TB and span and surpass HDS' current Lightning 9970V and 9980V products.

Performance, too, has been enhanced, to the point where the entry-level model of the new line matches that of the current high-end Lightning 9980V. HDS' HiStar architecture has been further refined--and redubbed the Universal Star Network, or U-Star--with reworked caching designs that yield substantial improvements in cached bandwidth, number of data paths and cache memory operations, among other parameters.

But bigger and faster isn't the whole story. Besides delivering high-performance storage, the three USP models can act as a front man to other external storage devices and virtualize those boxes to create a single pool of storage. HDS says that up to 32 petabytes (PB) of external storage can be managed in this manner, all under the single umbrella of the company's HiCommand storage management software and other application suites.

"The sheer scalability, the performance, the number of IOPS, the amount of storage it can manage behind it," says Tony Asaro, Enterprise Strategy Group's senior analyst, "all those things make it compelling."

The capabilities of the new HDS arrays have piqued the interest of Gary Pilafas, manager of enterprise architecture and infrastructure for United Airlines in Schaumburg, IL. With approximately 200TB of installed storage--150TB of which is HDS--Pilafas' shop was one of a handful of companies that took early delivery of USP arrays. Pilafas plans to rigorously test the modestly configured 5TB USP to compare its performance to an HDS Lightning 9960 and a 9980 United has installed. Pilafas also hopes to use the USP box to consolidate other storage: "We have some older EMC technology that I would like to virtualize," he says.

The significance of the USP line is apparent, and it blazes a trail for where enterprise-class storage systems are headed. Virtualizing already-installed storage isn't new, but doing it from a high-performance array and managing it all from a single pane of glass clearly raises the bar, and redefines the role of a high-end storage platform. "This is the first time we've seen a major supplier take their controller architecture and support a heterogeneous environment," says John McArthur, group vice president of worldwide storage research at IDC.

But before anyone gets too carried away with all of the superlatives, not all of USP's announced functionality is available out of the gate. Initially, the top-of-the-line USP1100 has a maximum raw capacity of 165TB, which HDS says will increase to 330TB when the Hitachi Ultrastar 10K300 300GB disks, announced last February, become an option in December.

At this time, virtualization capabilities are somewhat limited, too. Initially, the external boxes that a USP system can manage are restricted to other HDS arrays; the company plans to add support incrementally for other vendors' storage systems. HDS says the first enhancement will come in December, but Claus Mikkelsen, senior director for storage applications for HDS, says the specific storage systems that will be supported haven't been determined yet, however, support for EMC DMX and IBM Shark arrays are "high on the list." Mikkelsen adds that there are "a lot of service and maintenance issues that need to be worked out for each of the different vendors' products." HDS says customer demand will drive which devices are supported first.

The TagmaStore external virtualization capabilities are available as a separately licensed option. And regarding virtualization, HDS isn't likely to be alone for long. "They're not going to be the only one," says John Webster, senior analyst and partner at the Data Mobility Group. Webster says other vendors will soon introduce similar products that are "robust ... not the little appliances built on Windows NT virtualization machines."

This was first published in September 2004

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