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Pillar rolls out speedier Axiom 600 disk array

Pillar adds a new controller to its Axiom 600 disk array as traditional lines between high-end and midrange disk arrays blur; will it be enough to survive after Pillar financial backer Larry Ellison's Oracle acquires Sun Microsystems?

Pillar Data Systems rolled out a refresh to its Axiom 600 midrange disk array hardware today, introducing a faster storage controller that's backward compatible with previous versions of the product.

The Series 2 storage controller (or "slammer" in Pillar parlance) for the Axiom 600 is part of the upgrade, along with support for capacity "bricks" made up of 7,200 RPM 2 TB SATA disk drives. Pillar previously supported 2 TB disk drives at 5,400 RPM.

The new controller features an AMD Opteron quad-core CPU, replacing the dual-core CPU in the Series 1 controller. This means each controller can address up to 48 GB of cache, a doubling from the previous version, and a fully configured Axiom 600 with four controller units can address up to 192 GB of cache. The Series 2 controller supports 4 Gbps Fibre Channel.

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Series 2 controllers can be racked with Series 1 units and function as one storage pool, but performance will be limited to the "lowest common denominator." That means the controllers would revert to 2 Gbps FC supported by the Series 1 controller, according to Bob Maness, Pillar's vice president of worldwide marketing and channel sales.

The Axiom 600 Series 2 is available now at a list price of $37,500. The Series 1 controller will remain on the market, with its price dropped from $37,500 to $29,500.

Pillar gets more aggressive

"Like any company that has to start from scratch and built a market, Pillar first built a beachhead with tier three storage, positioned for disk-to-disk backup or online archiving," said Simon Robinson, research director for storage at the 451 Group. "As they add more horsepower to the portfolio, you're seeing more customers deploy Axiom arrays for tier one or tier two applications."

Pillar isn't alone in this strategy. Other midrange disk array vendors such as Compellent Technologies, Dell Inc.'s EqualLogic, and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s LeftHand Networks have done the same. Pillar has amassed 500 customers with 1,300 deployed systems to date, but Compellent, for example, claims more than 1,600 customers, growing at a rate of more than 100 new customers per quarter. "Pillar is still some ways behind some of the other guys," Robinson said.

Pillar could get either a big boost or suffer a big blow when its financial backer Larry Ellison's other company, Oracle Corp., completes its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, which also sells storage hardware products. Pillar executives say they are confident that Oracle will choose Axiom for midrange storage. Sun has turned to OEM partner LSI Corp. for its most of its midrange storage.

Could a big boost in cache with the Series 2 controller be an attempt to appeal especially to database environments running Oracle? "It's a fair observation," Robinson said. "It does Pillar no harm by having a feature set and hardware capabilities that would be a good complement to database environments, but you still can't be sure what [Ellison] is going to do."

One Pillar user and reseller, Chuck Egerter, president of Columbia, S.C.-based Eagle Business Solutions, said he's seeing the Series 2 controller pushing the Axiom into higher-end deals because midrange customers aren't bumping up against the top end of Axiom Series 1 performance yet. Already, Egerter said one prospect evaluated Axiom against EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix V-Max for Tier 1 storage.

"The customer looked at Pillar and liked it for tier one, but because of the comfort level with a known name [like EMC], they felt they couldn't go with it." Egerter said he's hoping Pillar will step up marketing efforts to get its brand more widely recognized and make such sales easier.

Robinson said he'd like to see Pillar refresh its software as well. "I'm wondering if there's going to be something on the application or software side that can take advantage of this greater horsepower," he said.

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