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HDS unveils Lightning 3 - TagmaStore

HDS has extended replication and snapshot features across its product family, ramped up its speeds and feeds and has finally come clean on its virtualization strategy.

Keeping a secret is easy; keeping a surprise is much harder, as anyone aware of today's launch of Hitachi Data Systems Corp.'s (HDS) new Lightning storage array can attest to. In the past few weeks, there has been enough Wall Street reports, half-baked trade stories, misinformation from competitors and whisperings from HDS insiders for an epic novel on the subject.

At last, here is the official story. TagmaStore, which means "to organize" in Greek, is the third generation of HDS' high-end Lightning and the first refresh of the product since June 2000.

Key improvements include an embedded virtualization layer that virtualizes capacity and controller unit functions such as replication and migration across the product family; logical partitioning of cache resources enabling users to create service levels, heterogeneous replication and significantly higher speeds and feeds.

Virtualization plans

"The biggest thing in this new product is the virtualization," according to Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at HDS. The Santa Clara, Calif., company has been criticized in the past for being slow to articulate its virtualization strategy while its competitors have raced ahead in this area. Yoshida believes virtualization requires a more "measured and conservative approach" as users are asked to change the way they think about managing their storage.

He said HDS is taking a different approach to its competitors. Unlike IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC) or EMC's storage router, which are both network-based virtualization products, TagmaStore performs virtualization inside the storage controller. "We're not adding latency in the network and we can virtualize capacity and control unit functions ... This means all the functionality can be mapped across to other products," preserving the longevity of these purchases, Yoshida said. HDS is the first major vendor to integrate heterogeneous virtualization and replication features onto a storage controller.

Until the launch of TagmaStore, HDS' modular storage arrays did not support its QuickShadow snapshot software. Now, connected to a TagmaStore, the Thunder product family can take advantage of all the software functionality of the high-end system. For example, online migration of data (which happens in the background while the array is still up and running) lets user migrate data from TagmaStore to a Thunder array to a SATA drive while maintaining access to the data.

HDS hasn't completely ruled out network-based virtualization, which may be useful for smaller businesses, Yoshida said. "But for large-capacity configurations, it is much more efficient to do virtualization in the control unit … switches are dealing with routing, VSANs and buffer decongestion, that's their core competence. Data movement and management is better done in the control unit."

TagmaStore to drive Thunder sales

By providing cross-platform software functionality, HDS "is aiming to push Thunder sales in Lightning accounts," according to Brian Hertzog, analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners. However, he said he believes HDS will struggle to gain traction in the midrange without one of the large resellers picking up the product. Both Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co. resell HDS' high-end systems and have announced their intent to resell TagmaStore; however these companies sell their own midrange systems that compete with the Thunder product line.

Yoshida counters criticism that HDS is struggling in the midrange. "Midsized companies must also comply with new regulations that require complex technological answers … Midrange systems can't cope on their own," he said.

Speeds, feeds and cache partitioning

TagmaStore comes in three models, the USP 100 (77 TB), the USP600 (154 TB) and USP 1100 (332 TB). The top USP model is scalable up to 32 PB. At 2 million IOPs and 68 GBps throughput, it is almost five times faster than the current generation. It starts with a single cabinet and scales to 1,152 drives, instead of the older model's two cabinets for a minimum system and a peak of 1,024 drives, which meant a cumbersome forklift upgrade.

Another noteworthy improvement in the new product is a logical cache partitioning feature. Earlier models allowed users to carve up the internal and external resources of the machine into virtual storage machines for multi-tenancy purposes. But this feature did not extend to the cache in the system, which meant that one request could take away the cache resources from another, request regardless of its priority. With logical cache partitioning, users can set service levels to ensure that priority jobs get the resources they require.

Heterogeneous replication

HDS has also enhanced its universal replication software by reducing the amount of cache it uses. The prior version of the software would keep a record of a request in cache until it received an acknowledgement from the other end. Now, it writes straight to disk and provides a journal that alerts the other side when there's data and allows it to pull down the information at its own pace, while preserving the "write order" of the data. Reducing the cache utilization saves resources for application performance, Yoshida said.

Third-party support for heterogeneous replication will be available later this year and TagmaStore resellers HP and Sun are working on this now. A partnership with AppIQ, which offers sophisticated SRM (storage resource management) software, helps HDS alleviate interoperability issues in heterogeneous environments. HDS has also improved its tuning manager to report on capacity as well as performance metrics.

Connectivity and pricing

Connectivity on the box includes 192 Fibre Channel ports, the current product offers 64 FC ports, and 128 virtual ports, which is the same number as the current generation. It also offers 96 FICON ports. Pricing for the TagmaStore starts at $600,000 and goes up into the millions. HDS did not provide details on this by press time, although industry analysts expect the product to be priced at a premium compared with other high-end systems like EMC's Symmetrix.

Market reaction

The last time HDS introduced a major upgrade, EMC experienced successive years of 20% decline in revenue, and only one profitable quarter out of seven. Hertzog notes that back then, the Symmetrix was 60% of EMC's revenue, and there was a massive slide in IT spending. "Today, we are confident that IT spending is increasing and EMC has diversified its revenue base so that Symmetrix (including related software) only accounts for approximately 30% of revenue," he said in a note to investors. Hertzog said he expects HDS to gain market share via customer upgrades, but believes it is unlikely to cause market share shifts away from EMC accounts.

The product will be resold by HP as its StorageWorks 12000 disk array, and by Sun Microsystems as its StoreEdge 9900 disk array. According to Gartner Inc., Hitachi external controller-based storage accounts for about 8% of the market, trailing EMC, which has a 21% market share, and HP, which has almost 19%.

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