HDS slashes pricing for high-end features

HDS unveils cheaper version of high-end TagmaStore, bringing its proprietary virtualization to the midrange. Meanwhile, IBM has a virtualization standards effort up its sleeve.

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Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., announced Monday a mini version of its high-end TagmaStore storage array at a fraction of the cost of the original with most of the same features and functionality. Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Sun Microsystems Inc. will OEM the product.

The Network Storage Controller NSC55 is targeted at the midrange, or customers with one or more SANs in their primary data center while the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform is rooted firmly at the high end. HDS claims to have sold over a 1,000 TagmaStores since the product's launch in Sept. 2004.

"A lot of enterprise data center customers will use the smaller, cheaper model for specific applications … HDS will probably get more sales in the enterprise that wouldn't have ponied-up for the TagmaStore," said Randy Kerns, an independent storage analyst. "It's a less risky move -- HDS has scaled down a known architecture, which means their development and support costs will be much lower."

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It's no secret that HDS has had some trouble selling the TagmaStore, most likely because of its hefty price tag. The smallest configuration starts at around $600,000 and quickly gets up into the millions while a 5 terabyte (TB) configuration of the NSC55 is priced at $125,000.

Kaushik Roy, analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group LLP, said in a recent note to investors that he has seen "a protracted sales cycle for HDS's TagmaStore. In particular, our sales contacts at Sun and HP report deep discounting of TagmaStore, up to 50%-60% off list prices."

NSC55 features and functions

The NSC55 manages up to 64 TB internally and 16 petabytes of externally attached heterogeneous storage, including systems from EMC Corp., IBM, HP, and Sun. It provides 250,000 IOPs and internal bandwidth of 12.1 gigabytes per second (GBps), 64 GB of cache, 48 Fibre Channel (FC) ports, 16 FICON ports and16,384 LUNs.

By way of comparison, the TagmaStore comes in three models: the USP 100 (77 TB), the USP600 (154 TB) and the USP 1100 (332 TB). The top USP model is scalable up to 32 PB and provides 2 million IOPs and 68 GBps throughput. It starts with a single cabinet and scales to 1,152 drives.

"The new midrange models are not upgradeable beyond adding the four chassis of disk," said Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at HDS.

Other NSC55 features include embedded NAS blades, mainframe connectivity and native disk-based write once read many software for record retention. The NSC55 is architected with a multi-processor global cache disk controller that can be accessed by any server through HDS's familiar nonblocking crossbar switch. Sun's 6920 is the closest comparable product on the market, analysts said.

Virtualization mantra

HDS continues to bang the drum on the virtues of its controller-based in-band virtualization technique compared with IBM's SAN Volume Controller appliance approach and EMC's fabric-based Invista product.

"We're the cheapest solution," Yoshida said. "Invista costs $225,000 without even a byte of storage." Although not endorsing HDS's product, Tom Georgens, president and CEO of Engenio Information Technologies Inc., shares similar concerns as HDS. "How much are you going to spend on a storage product before you actually get any storage?" he asked.

The virtualization apple cart is about to get upset again later this month when IBM will unveil a standards-based collaboration program for virtualization vendors. Veritas Software Inc. is likely to be a key partner. The standards initiative is expected to make it easier for users to manage virtualization products from different vendors. IBM is keeping quiet on the details, which are expected to be announced at an event in New Orleans.

HDS argues that standards take too long to develop and don't provide enough details. "A standard only takes you so far, then everyone adds to it but you don't want many different ways of doing it -- the idea is to plug different devices into one interface, that's where the simplicity comes from," Yoshida said.

He notes that the majority of TagmaStore users are not using the product to virtualize third-party storage yet. "Customers are worried about supporting other vendors on the backend … but the intent is to get used to the machines and then use it."

Thunder 9500 series replaced

HDS is also introducing a new of line midrange, modular storage systems — the TagmaStore Adaptable Modular Storage and Workgroup Modular Storage lines (models AMS500, AMS200 and WMS100) – replacing its Thunder 9500 V Series.

The AMS and WMS support up to 4 Gbps FC port connectivity. AMS systems offer FC drives with a SATA intermix option, while WMS systems are configured only with SATA drives for lower cost nearline storage applications.

AMS and WMS features

These new systems support native iSCSI functionality, embedded NAS support, including snapshot and copy software, eight logical cache partitions to dedicate cache to specific applications and volumes, 4 Gbps FC connectivity, RAID-6 dual parity striping for improving availability and speeding up RAID group rebuild times in the event of drive failure, native disk-based WORM software and copy-on-write snapshot software. The AMS200 scales up to 40.5 TB and the AMS500 offers 88.5 TB of raw capacity. The WMS100 workgroup model scales to 42 TB of raw capacity and runs the same software as the AMS models.

The WMS100 all SATA system costs approximately $20,000, the AMS200 with 5 TB of SATA and FC intermixed costs around $40,000 and the AMS500 configured with 10 TB is priced at about $70,000.

HDS's NSC, WMS and AMS products can be managed under the company's HiCommand Tiered Storage Manager software that can dynamically migrate data across multi-dimensional tiers of storage without disruption to the application, the company claims.

Channel concerns

HDS faces a challenge developing its reseller channel at this end of the market since its legacy is in Unix and mainframe shops, and it has little to no presence on the Windows side of the house.

Yoshida said the company has stepped up its partnership with Microsoft and has engineers at the software giant's headquarters in Redmond. "They are using our replication capability with their GeoCluster product and we are working with them on their Simple SAN intiative." HDS claims to have about 500 channel partners worldwide -- many focused on the Windows market.

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