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Pillar users push for Fibre Channel in Axiom array

Users say they're still waiting for the bigger news -- an FC version of the array. Analysts say there could be long-time upheaval with OEM partners if Pillar competes with EMC.

Pillar Data Systems Inc.'s new AxiomONE software pulls all array management tools into one GUI and officially adds...

new features to Axiom, including continuous data protection (CDP) and virtual tape, however, the lack of Fibre Channel (FC) support bothers users.

Among the key updates to the software is a new capacity manager, which does historical capacity planning, by volume, by file system or application, and a new WORM file system for compliance purposes.

"[Within the new capacity management tool] there is a modeling tool that lets you predict what will happen to the systems performance, by volume, application or file system if you add things to other volumes, apps, etc.," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, in an email to "That way, you can maintain exact quality of service levels no matter what."

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"I'm very interested in that, especially given the way our company is growing," said Chris Butler, chief technology officer (CTO) of online media research company, I/Pro Corp. "Butler's company has grown from several hundred client Web sites into a network of more than 10,000, which he said he expects to grow to more than 100,000 by the end of the year.

"We've been doing some back-of-the-envelope modeling to figure out how much capacity we need to add," Butler said. "Having a tool like this will make it a lot easier."

While other aspects of the Axiom software currently being announced are not actually new, including CDP and heterogeneous replication capabilities via an OEM deal with Kashya Inc. and Signiant Inc., and a virtual tape library (VTL) from FalconStor Software Inc., not many Pillar customers have been aware of all of them.

"To be honest with you, I haven't really looked into all the capabilities yet," said Nick DeMoner, CTO of AthletiShare. DeMoner said he was most interested in exploring the new VTL capabilities, as AthletiShare is currently building a new backup infrastructure.

"We have already been using Pillar's Quality of Service feature as an archive," DeMoner said, referring to a feature of the box that allows users to put less frequently accessed data on the inside portion of a disk platter; being able to add VTL capabilities to this kind of "internal tiering" and managing it all in one array is a very appealing option, DeMoner said.

Fibre Channel drives and Kashya: Two possible sticking points

According to users, Pillar has been encroaching on territory previously occupied by big vendors, including in their own shops. Adding features like CDP is important, they say, but if Pillar means to make good on its intention to compete with the big vendors, it must also make good on its stated intention to add support for FC drives. Pillar says that it intends to add 2 Gbps FC within the next month, and 4 Gbps within the next year. Currently, the Axiom array remains SATA only.

"I'm already phasing out EMC [Corp.] from my environment, and I expect to be looking for new Tier-1 storage in that time period," said Steven Olson, manager of informatics for the Las Vegas Review Journal. "Right now, Pillar is my Tier-2, so I don't really need the same kind of performance in that box as I get from my Symmetrix, but eventually, if I'm going to consider them as a Tier-1 player, they need to have Fibre Channel."

"Having the performance of Fibre Channel would be great for us," DeMoner added. AthletiShare allows high schools to upload footage of its athletes for review by college recruiters; as the company comes into its heavy season in the fall, DeMoner said, it often sees file uploads of 300 GB or more.

"Adding the performance of Fibre Channel over SATA would save us about 25% or more of the time it takes to do those uploads," DeMoner said. Currently such a file can take up to an hour and 45 minutes to load, whereas with FC that time could go down, depending on the size of the file, to 45 minutes to an hour.

"If Pillar's behind on anything, it's [the lack of support for FC]," DeMoner said, adding that though the support for 2 Gbps was to be added shortly, he would probably be waiting for the 4 Gbps capability, "because I don't want to have to buy FC twice."

Another issue for Pillar going forward is its partnership with Kashya, which users say doesn't worry them too much, but analysts say that if Pillar means to compete with EMC, which acquired Kashya in May (see EMC adds Kashya to InVista, May 9), it could mean upheaval under the covers for Pillar in the next year or so.

"They'll probably have to find an alternative," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group. "I would be amazed if they stayed long term with the Kashya product."

Taneja predicted that when push comes to shove, Pillar will probably change out the back end of its CDP and replication features in a way that "will put the brunt of the impact on itself," sparing the customer any difficulty, an intention echoed by Pillar spokesman Russ Kennedy, senior director, marketing and strategy.

"If we were going to do that, it would not impact the customer in any way," Kennedy said, adding that there is plenty of Pillar-developed code around the Kashya product already. "This isn't just a reseller agreement we have with them -- it's our technology." All of the customers contacted for this story said they had faith in Pillar's ability to negotiate the murky waters of "coopetition" successfully.

"It sounds like Kashya is a placeholder for them," said I/Pro's Butler. "They can always find other partners, and they have plenty of engineers working for them. It can't be that hard to come up with something else if they have to."

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