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HDS prepares all-flash storage array to surpass EMC's 'flash everywhere'

Hitachi Data Systems VP Robert Basilio talks of new HDS all-flash array and how the vendor plans to surpass EMC in its 'flash everywhere' strategy.

Hitachi Data Systems will launch its first all-flash storage array next week. Roberto Basilio, vice president of storage product management, confirmed the new system is coming, although HDS won't release full details until July 10.

Basilio did say the array is based on the Hitachi Accelerated Flash module that Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) began offering in its flagship Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) last year. The new array will scale to 150 TB of multi-level cell flash (MLC) with plans to scale the system larger in future versions.

We spoke with Basilio about the array, and HDS' strategy of using its internally developed flash technology throughout its storage platforms.

What is your next flash storage system?

Roberto Basilio: We're taking the Hitachi Accelerated Flash module that already exists and fine tuning it. It will become an all-flash array. It's going to be faster, even more responsive, with a lower response time and so on.

We will also release a benchmark that will show throughput of hundreds of thousands of IOPS plus a sub-millisecond response time. The design we use today will be even bigger and faster in a few months.

Is this an appliance or part of your existing storage platform?

Basilio: I like to define it as an all-flash array. It's a platform that has all the functionality of our original storage platform -- disaster recovery, data protection, advanced data management and other technologies. It will behave like an appliance, but it's sized bigger than the appliances that are out there.

It could be something to put in front of other devices to have automated tiering.

Is it primary storage or a system used to optimize existing arrays?

Basilio: It can be both. It can be primary storage for a specific environment, such as a large transactional database, and give it a fast response time. But this is large capacity. You're talking hundreds of terabytes of flash capacity.

We go to 150 TB and will soon be over 300 TB. How many appliances do you need to do that? And do you want all those little boxes, or do you want one point of management?

So it's more than a high-performance storage system?

Basilio: Going faster without brakes is not something people want to do. Our implementation gives you the speed and response time, but also gives you the brakes -- high-level data protection, the capability of doing disaster recovery and other functionality typical of the platforms we offer.

Is it compatible with other Hitachi storage?

Basilio: Oh yeah. It's based on an existing platform. We're taking something that already exists and fine tuning it to take advantage of characteristics of accelerated flash. It's capable of doing things like disaster recovery and virtualization the way the VSP does. And this is just another step in our overall flash direction. We will have accelerated flash in all aspects of our portfolio over time.

Will you use any single-level cell (SLC) flash, or is it all MLC?

Basilio: We went down the path of MLC. It doesn't' make sense to go back to SLC. You get around the MLC endurance issue by having intelligent flash management inside. We built our controller with high bandwidth and the fast processor inside allows multiple operations to go on at [the] same time. It takes care of data placement, takes care of compression, and takes care of intelligent flash management without impacting the data transfer rate.

And this is a technology we will expand in the future. We're taking this one step at a time. We liken it to the concept of crawling, walking and running. I think we are walking fast now.

Many of your competitors have launched or announced all-flash arrays. Is yours similar to any of the flash systems already out there?

Basilio: Our main target is EMC. EMC has a strategy of "flash everywhere," and has heavily invested in XtremIO. They talk about managing data on flash from end to end. Well, guess what? This has been on our drawing board for two years. With XtremIO, EMC had to go out and buy something. We have developed something equivalent that will be available next week. We're going to deliver something in July that EMC and other companies are talking about.

In the future, you will see the additional software component that will manage end-to-end and intelligent data placement, as well. EMC is not the only game in town for flash.

Will you have server-based flash too, then?

Basilio: I'm a little skeptical of the value of investing in that space. I'm not saying that technology isn't useful, but it's a commoditized technology. The amount of flash you can put in a PCIe card is limited; it's not enough for the enterprise customer. However, that doesn't mean we are not looking at using the technology we have today in a different shape, closer to the server, using a different low-latency type interface.

What separates your array from the all-flash systems already on the market?

Basilio: Speed is not everything. Speed is good for flash, but it is not everything. People also look at robustness, the additional functionality and reliability of the solution. We protect like a traditional storage system. If it fails, you remove the failing part without downtime. You keep going.

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