NEC reveals HydraStor grid storage

NEC announces its HydraStor array for secondary storage, touting its grid storage architecture, automated policies for data management and scalable deduplication.

NEC Corp. of America has announced the details of its long-awaited grid storage system, HydraStor, which should ruffle some feathers in the storage industry. (See NEC preps grid-based backup appliance.)

HydraStor is in beta and won't ship until the end of the summer, but resellers and analysts said there's plenty to look forward to. An entry-level system supports 7.5 terabytes (TB) of usable capacity or about 146 TB of effective capacity when data deduplication is turned on. The system can theoretically scale out to thousands of petabytes (PB) of capacity in 2.5 TB increments, according to NEC. A 140 TB system will cost approximately $100,000 with security, continuous data protection (CDP), replication and migration features standard in the first release.

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"It'll be the hallway discussion among all the storage players this week," said Robert Gray, vice president of worldwide storage systems research at IDC.

Most "grid" storage is actually clustering on steroids. It still has a single control node for management, whereas with HydraStor everything is distributed across all nodes so there is no bottleneck, explained Karen Dutch, NEC's general manager for advanced storage products. She said HydraStor, which is a file-only system for now, will offer 100 megabytes per second (MBps) throughput and supports an NEC patent pending process called Distributed Resilient Data (DRD). Most clustering products use a combination of RAID and RAIN techniques for mirroring different parts of the disk across two nodes so that data will survive disk and node failures. However, Dutch points out that mirroring would require a considerable amount of excess capacity. "It gets extremely complex and ugly as you scale, and very expensive," she said.

HydraStor's DRD feature, meanwhile, has a default setting of Parity-3 protection, protecting against three disk failures, but users can effectively "dial up" as many parity chunks as they require. Data is distributed across all nodes using DRD so an application never performs a failover and there are no redundant copies. More significantly, NEC said there is little to no impact on performance during rebuild times, unlike RAID-6 rebuilds, which regularly bring storage controllers to their knees. Nodes can have different capacity and performance capabilities and can be added, removed and upgraded nondisruptively, NEC said. In addition, manual tasks, such as provisioning and reserving capacity, are not required. As nodes are added, capacity is discovered and utilized automatically, and existing stored data is automatically load balanced across them.

Another feature likely to cause a stir in the industry is HydraStor's deduplication technology, dubbed DataRedux, which eliminates data duplication at the subfile level across and within incoming data streams. NEC claims it reduces storage capacity by up to 75%, without interrupting performance.

Jim Addlesberger, president and CEO of NavigateStorage LLC, a reseller in Concord, Mass., said this is a crucial differentiator between HydraStor and existing deduplication products. "While dedupe is a superb idea, all the early implementations have had various shortcomings … they couldn't examine enough chunks fast enough to scale, and the manageability was horrible," he said. "As you scale, you buy another and another, and soon you are managing a farm of them." With HydraStor's grid architecture, controllers are added as capacity is added and every node is aware of every other node, easing performance and management issues.

Addlesberger said the only drawback to HydraStor is that it's a new product, "and we'll have to see where the issues lie."

Similarly, Gray said it has yet to be proven, but he noted that historically, NEC is like "the G.E. of Japan … very conservative and with a long and proud tradition of engineering." Though like IBM, he said that has meant a tough time being competitive globally. "When you are so detailed and complete, being speedy is difficult," he said.

Eventually Gray said he'd like to see NEC offer its APIs and node logic into a standards body so that users can add nodes from different suppliers. "Long term, we need to be able to build heterogeneous grids, although that's a long way out," he said.

For now, HydraStor is only addressing the secondary storage market, which Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, describes as a "flanking maneuver by NEC … they are coming around the side instead of hitting the enemy head on." In 2008, NEC expects to change this up, rolling out security and classification features aimed at the primary storage market, and by 2009, HydraStor will support multisite implementations.

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