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HDS storage takes a software-defined turn

Hitachi Data Systems storage strategy leans heavily to software development as it looks to adapt to changes in the market.

LAS VEGAS -- For all its talk of transforming around social innovation, the near-term changes to Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) storage will be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

During the HDS Connect conference this week, the vendor laid out short-term roadmaps for its storage systems. The main change will be a distinct software focus across its platforms, something HDS has never been known for.

HDS has been known for its large storage arrays that can virtualize other vendors' storage behind it, but that focus is changing. HDS this week moved the software from its flagship Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) into midrange arrays. The highest-end VSP G1000 still uses HDS-developed ASICs and its Hitachi NAS (HNAS) file storage platform includes Hitachi field programmable gate arrays, but all other storage systems use industry-standard hardware. A main goal for HDS is to decouple storage software from hardware across its product lines.

HDS claims 85% of its research and development budget goes to software, and software and services accounted for 54% of its revenue last year.

"It's all about software," HDS COO Brian Householder said. "Everything we do has a software component to it."

Here are snapshots of HDS' main product platforms.

Virtual Storage Platform

One of the big HDS storage product rollouts this week was new midrange versions of the high-end enterprise VSP. The new VSP G200, G400, G600 and G800 run the same Storage Virtualization Operating System (SVOS) as the G1000 but the new arrays use industry-standard hardware. That makes for less expensive versions of the virtualization SANs, although the new systems don't perform as well as the G1000.

The new midmarket systems come with the high-end market in decline. EMC's market-leading VMAX has had two straight quarters of big year-over-year declines. HDS senior director of product marketing Bob Madaio said the G1000 is "the hot box" in that space now because of its active-active capability and is taking share from EMC, but he doesn't expect sustained growth in the high end.

"The high-end market is clearly slowing, but we're doing relatively well," he said. "In the near term we're still going after those customers. If we help that customer on the high end bring in a smaller VSP for their next app, you can replicate to each other and get that single story. We compete [in the mid-range] with appliances, and with appliances you have to get two different architectures to talk to each other. We don't have to do that."

How low can HDS go with the VSP family? At Connect, HDS showed a demo version of a laptop running SVOS on a virtual machine replicating to a physical VSP in California. Sean Moser, HDS SVP of product management, said that will eventually become a shipping product.

"That's a for-real, fully-functioning VSP," he said. "The fact we can do that and replicate to a hardware VSP and offer that to service providers is compelling. The next question is what applications can you build on top of that?"

Flash strategy

HDS claims it sold over 100 PB of flash in 2014, mostly its Flash Module Drives. HDS also sells traditional solid-state drives (SSDs). Madaio said one Silicon Valley-based company is using 8 PB of HDS flash to run a high volume of Web transactions.

HDS recently added Active Flash Tiering that automatically moves data to a flash tier if usage starts spiking. Most tiering applications watch usage patterns for hours before beginning the tiering process.

The big work for HDS in flash will be keeping its flash modules up to date with the latest flash technologies.

Converged/hyper-converged infrastructure

"Converged is the No. 1 priority at HDS now," said Ravi Chalaka, who, as HDS VP of solutions marketing, meant it is his No. 1 priority.

HDS got into converged infrastructure for real in 2012 with its Unified Compute Platform (UCP) after an earlier attempt never worked out. UCP consists of storage and compute (with partner Cisco) systems tuned for specific workloads such as VMware vSphere, Microsoft applications, Oracle databases and SAP Hana. Chalaka said HDS now has more than 1,000 customers using UCP systems.

HDS added its first two hyper-converged infrastructure products this week. The UCP 1000 for VMware EVO: RAIL is a traditional hyper-converged product that uses VMware's Virtual SAN software and will compete with vendors such as Nutanix and SimpliVity for VDI and remote office storage. Each UCP 1000 appliance includes 14.4 TB of hard disk drive capacity, 1.6 TB of SSD cache, four VMware ESXi hosts and two 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The Hitachi Hyper Scale-Out Platform (HSP) is a hyper-converged box built for in-place data access for Hadoop and other big data analytics using a Posix-compliant file system. It supports the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) API but can access the data in place without loading it into HDFS.

Miki Sandorfi, HDS VP of solutions and cloud, said the vendor will expand the HPS family and is working with VMware on its EVO:RACK software, which is not yet shipping.

Scale-out NAS/object storage

Madaio said Hitachi Content Platform (HCP) object storage is growing faster than HNAS for use cases that have traditionally gone on NAS. He said HNAS is still used for virtualized workloads but "for large data sets, object storage is easier to manage and protect. We see a lot of object storage in remote offices, and customers can sync back to the home office."

Still, he said new HNAS systems are coming this year, and HNAS will be the first HDS systems to support VMware Virtual Volumes in May.

Data protection

While HDS executives mentioned the acquisition of data analytics software vendor Pentaho in nearly every session at Connect, backup disk target pickup Sepaton was largely ignored. HDS has not upgraded the Sepaton platform since acquiring it in August 2014. When asked, several of the executives said there would be upgrades to Sepaton this year. HDS is continuing the work Sepaton started on adding a NAS interface to go with what has always been Virtual Tape Library (VTL)-only connectivity.

A more surprising product on the show floor was the Hitachi Digital Preservation Platform (HDPP), an optical storage system that is being shipped in limited availability by the vendor's federal government team. Yes, you read that right -- optical storage. The HDPP uses Blu-Ray and will eventually support M-Disc media.

"Thanks to Facebook for making optical cool," said Michael Hay, HDS chief engineer, referring to the social media giant's move to Blu-ray for cold storage last year.

Hay is well aware of previous failures to use optical as a storage archiving medium but said the advances in current Blu-ray and future technologies make it a better choice for long-term preservation.

Next Steps

HDS VP on flash market growth

HDS launches managed service for UCP cloud

HDS enters the world of software-defined storage

Dig Deeper on Storage vendors

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Which new storage technologies are you most interested in adopting?
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Well, of course their emphasis is going to be on software. In storage, hardware is increasingly becoming a commodity; software is going to be where the money is.
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