TagmaStore: Users swoon but competitors say no sweat

Early users of Hitachi's TagmaStore array say it takes virtualization to the next level, but HDS rivals think otherwise.

Trumpeting the theme that they are more innovative than the competition, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) rolled out the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform yesterday at The Guggenheim Museum in New York. And while its users touted TagmaStore's virtualization benefits, the competition took it in stride.

Though this is the third generation of the company's high-end Lightning storage array, it is much more than just a new storage box. It's a hardware-based virtualization system that can aggregate up to 32 petabytes (PB) of storage into a virtual storage pool managed from a single console, thus removing the need for replication software for each storage device.

If ever there was a company that needed this functionality, it's United Airlines. Brian Frank, senior director of infrastructure management at United, is overseeing the merging of United Airlines Loyalty Services (ULS), the airline's e-commerce subsidiary, with the rest of the company. ULS had its own IT shop for its network, servers and storage.

"TagmaStore allows us to see all our storage devices as one unit managed across an entire enterprise. This helps us increase performance, drive down TCO and reduce complexity," said Frank.

Another user, Tom Fleissner, SAN architect at Pacific Capital Bancorp, an independent company that owns a network of banks in California, has 21 TB of storage and growing, and in a highly regulated industry like banking, speed and scalability are paramount. What appealed to Fleissner most was the fact that TagmaStore can handle up to 32 PB and 2 million I/Os per second. "That's way more than anyone else can do, and is the kind of throughput that can really reduce the cost and complexity of compliance," said Fleissner.

Another way that TagmaStore is trying to set itself apart is by performing virtualization inside the storage controller, unlike EMC Corp. and IBM Corp., which use software to do virtualization in the fabric. Boris Sherman, new TagmaStore user and director of enterprise systems architecture at United Airlines, said doing virtualization in the fabric "has no performance benefit. You're just adding another level of complexity and new devices to manage."

Tony Asaro, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), Milford, Mass., downplays the difference between virtualization in the array and in the fabric. "There are multiple ways to do virtualization -- this is just HDS' way." But Asaro was impressed with TagmaStore's scalability and ability to collapse functionality in one place. These are key ways to reduce TCO, said Asaro, which is all the more important because TCO is how TagmaStore will be judged.

"I think TagmaStore will be in trouble if HDS doesn't make itself known to midsized businesses. These are companies that need TCO reduced the most because they are growing so much, but with less budget," Asaro said.

Competitor IBM said that with TagmaStore, HDS is trying to compensate for being behind the virtualization curve and predicts HDS will bypass midsized companies. "Hitachi's announcement is late to market and represents one-dimensional thinking in the area of storage virtualization and is aimed solely at high-end customers," said Rich Lechner, vice president of storage systems at IBM.

EMC as well implied that HDS may have ulterior motives for the TagmaStore announcement. "They haven't been gaining share lately. They've been flat or declining. So it seemed about time for a new product," said Chuck Hollis, vice president of platforms marketing at the Hopkinton-based vendor. "We don't take Hitachi lightly. We just believe optimization and information life cycle management (ILM) is where the industry is going."

The latest Gartner Inc. estimates show that in the external disk storage systems market EMC is leading with a 23.1% share. IBM has 13.2% and HDS 6.9%. In light of these numbers, there does appear to be pressure on TagmaStore to deliver market share for HDS, especially with IBM expected to announce a revision of its Shark array in the next few months.

According to Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems at International Data Corporation, Framingham, Mass., HDS still has to play its cards right, despite the impressive technology of TagmaStore. "This is a complex sale," he said. "HDS can't just say 'we've got a bigger box.' EMC can win that fight. It has to get the word out that it has a bigger box that can migrate, replicate and manage all your storage."

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