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HDS refreshes high-end disk array

The new Universal Storage Platform, souped up with double the processing power, now includes thin provisioning, but users are still looking for certain software features.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) has finally unveiled a long-rumored addition to its Universal Storage Platform (formerly TagmaStore) disk array product line, a new model called the Universal Storage Platform V (USPV) that will boost performance and add thin provisioning.

The USPV's drive count -- up to 1152 -- is not different from the previous model. However, the internal plumbing has been totally refreshed, starting with 4 Gbps Fibre Channel connections to disk drives and hosts, as well as new processors and support for half-size controller cards, both of which will boost the speeds and feeds on the box. The new processors have doubled in power from 400 MHz to 800 MHz. The array can now support 16 controller pairs, where previously it supported eight for a total of 224 front-end Fibre Channel ports and support for up to 112 FICON or ESCON ports. Finally, the array will now support 300 GB Fibre Channel disk drives. All of these factors mean that the array can virtualize up to 247 petabytes (PB) of external storage, as opposed to 32 PB before.

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"I think people take these speeds and feeds for granted," said Tony Asaro, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "It takes a Herculean effort to create a faster, more scalable package out of an established system."

"I have one data warehousing application in my environment that needs every bit of performance it can get -- it sucks up 100,000 IOPs and requires a 7 millisecond response time," said Gary Pilafas, managing director of enterprise architecture for United Airlines and a longtime USP customer. "Speeds and feeds are always welcome."

For now, the highest internal capacity is the same as on the previous generation at 332 terabytes (TB), but with even higher capacity disk drives expected to be qualified in the coming year, that number will be boosted. Currently, the array has support for up to 64,000 LUNs as opposed to the 16,000 that were supported before; and support for 16,000 business-copy volumes (BCVs) where before Tagma supported up to 8,000.

HDS is also the first of the large vendors to add support for thin provisioning on its storage area network (SAN) arrays. The feature, a term first promoted by 3PARData Inc., refers to the ability to create virtual volumes without actually allocating disk, only adding capacity to the volume as actual data is added to maximize utilization.

Another provisioning feature added to this model is support for wide striping, which allows LUNs to be striped across hundreds or even thousands of disks, an operation usually performed for performance tuning. "That adds some ease of use that really differentiates this product," Asaro said.

The HP XP24000

The array is also being OEMed by Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), as the rest of HDS' TagmaStore offerings already are, in HP's XP series. This model will become the XP24000; It comes with HP StorageWorks XP Array Manager software, most of which is based on HDS' HiCommand software. Sun Microsystems Inc. has also historically rebranded TagmaStore as its 9000 line of disk arrays, but declined comment for this story.

New with this announcement from HP, meanwhile, will be a bundling of internally developed management features, including a performance monitoring tool and middleware for mirroring, dubbed Continuous Access, into one license fee. Previously, users had to pay separate licensing fees for each piece. Because of the boosted processing power, HP will also be doubling the number of Continuous Access replication pairs supported, from 16,000 to 32,000.

Users, analysts want heterogeneous replication, simpler software

USP and XP users said the boosted "speeds and feeds" are appealing, as is thin provisioning. One early adopter, Ed Kosten, supervisor of Unix systems engineering for Priority Health, said he's been beta testing the HP version and plans to upgrade from the XP12000.

"Hanging on to old equipment ends up costing more in maintenance costs for less performance and capacity than the latest and greatest," he said.

With this array in particular, Kosten said he was especially pleased with the support for half-height cards, which will allow for more flexibility in attaching different hosts to the array. "It's always great to give users more options," he said. "We feel like we have more choices and more control with more cards to work with."

However, in addition to thin provisioning, users are also asking for support for heterogeneous synchronous replication. Currently, users need at least one TagmaStore controller pair at a remote site for synchronous replication over geographic distance. With HDS competitors, like Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) and EMC Corp., getting into replication from their arrays directly to third-party storage systems, thanks to the acquisitions of Topio and Kashya Inc., HDS users are starting to feel left out.

"I've been asking HP about this for a while now," Kosten said, because he wants to control costs by putting an EVA array at his secondary site rather than another Tagma. "They don't seem to have any plans to add this capability."

According to Kyle Fitze, HP's director of marketing, SANs, StorageWorks division, users can use another HP program called FlexCopy to send data between heterogeneous arrays but heterogeneous synchronous replication is not available with Continuous Access. Fitze declined to comment on whether or not HP would be looking in to adding the capability.

HDS also has alternatives for heterogeneous data migration, but chief technology officer Hu Yoshida said that the USP's Universal Replicator software will continue to require the second controller pair at a remote site. "For one control unit to talk to another, they have to be the same," he said. "But behind those other architectures you can have any other array."

It's true that a controller pair from HDS is going to cost much more than a replication appliance, but Asaro pointed out that requiring like devices at either end of the wire is not unique to HDS' replication. "They can also scale down their NSC controller very low as an alternative for a secondary site," he pointed out.

According to Asaro, where HDS has to improve is in terms of simplicity; aside from thin provisioning very little about the array's software management capabilities has been significantly changed. "They have all the pieces there," he said. "But they need to streamline them, make them more intuitive--there are always little details with these big, inherently complex enterprise systems, little nuanced things that can cause delays."

The future

HDS will not be discontinuing the legacy USP, according to comments from Yoshida in Monday's conference call. HDS will support current customers and the older USP systems will continue to be manufactured. Medium- and low-end models will also follow.

"I'd like to see that happen for those times I have to create a 'one-off' or temporary storage island and don't want the full-blown USPV," Pilafas said.

"Stand by," Yoshida said when asked for timing on scaled-down versions.

"It will be interesting to see how IBM and EMC respond to this with their high-end products," Asaro added. Big vendors, like HDS, tend to be slightly behind the curve when it comes to innovations as compared to startups and tend not to develop a new capability until there's some market validation. HDS taking the first step into thin provisioning could touch off similar innovation from its big competitors in response, Asaro said.

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