Hitachi this week laid a unique bet on storage virtualization with the launch of the latest version of its flagship Lightning disk array. The box makes Hitachi one of only a very select handful of tier-one suppliers to offer a high-end virtualization system, and catapults the company into a technical lead over its high-end storage rivals EMC and IBM.
But Hitachi must prove that there is a demand for what is an expensive virtualization platform compared to other systems, in a market in which customers have for some while been switching spending away from high-end disk arrays.
The full potential of the new product, called the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform, is also dependent on Hitachi’s promise of full cross-vendor support – something that may take a little while to fulfill.
The TagmaStore like other full-blooded virtualization products can pool heterogeneous storage resources, and – importantly – replicate data between cross-vendor arrays. It joins only a small set of tier-one virtualization products.
Rivals’ launches still to come
Hewlett-Packard has put on ice its plans for a high-end virtualization system, leaving it with only its mid-range CASA virtualization system – a product that in any case HP is backpedaling on because it has been subject to successful patent litigation by EMC.
EMC will not ship a virtualization system until next year, and Veritas Software’s port of its Storage Foundation software to Cisco’s MDS smart switch is still a cutting edge product that is at least somewhat limited in functionality. Although IBM last year launched a virtualization system called SAN Volume Controller, Hitachi can credibly claim to hugely outgun this IBM product in terms of performance or scalability.
Ignoring the approach taken by all other vendors, Hitachi has hosted its virtualization system on the Lighting disk array. That contrasts with IBM’s choice of a server appliance to underpin its SVC, or EMC’s choice of a smart switch for its future product. To suit its virtualization role, the TagmaStore offers a hugely boosted throughput, which Hitachi claims is at least five times greater than for its rivals’ hardware.
EMC however clearly does not like the TagmaStore any more than it does IBM’s SVC, which also threatens to commoditize its array-based replication software, and it claimed the TagmaStore is too unique for its own good.
Regardless of how you feel about where virtualization should run, just about every other upplier is putting it in the network, says EMC marketing vice president Chuck Hollis.
Hitachi is standing alone on this, he said. That contrasts with earlier comments from EMC that many storage functions will run better on arrays than they will in the network. Customers have told us they want to see it in the network, and we changed our position, Hollis said.
TagmaStore makes the distinction
So far Hitachi says it has sold more pre-release USP boxes than it sold Lightnings in the first two months after the company’s last major refresh to the array, in 2002. However the Lightning is a high-end box, and the fastest growing sector of the array market is for so-called modular or mid-range arrays.
Hitachi says the TagmaStore will make the distinctions between high-end, modular and even ATA arrays irrelevant, and that the UPS will appeal to all market sectors as a management tool.
By virtualizing capacity on older disk arrays whose biggest deficiency is their ageing and limited software functionality, it will bring a new lease of life to legacy hardware.
One customer was talking to us about buying a small quantity of mid-range storage. They probably had about 700TB of mid-range storage, and eventually they bought the USP, said Scott Generoux, senior vice president of marketing at Hitachi. The TagmaStore will cost around 2% to 3% more than previous Lightnings. We could install a lot of smaller configurations that manage hundreds of TB behind them, Generoux said.
The TagmaStore supports Hitachi’s existing Lighting and mid-range Thunder arrays – including earlier Thunders – as well as the MSA and T3 and T4 arrays made by Hitachi’s OEM partners Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.
Hitachi said the TagmaStore will support EMC and IBM arrays before the year end, when the company will also ship a Universal Replicator allowing heterogeneous replication.
IBM on the same path
Attempting to rain on Hitachi’s parade, EMC suggested that the laboratory testing needed to do this could overwhelm Hitachi. We have multiple vendors’ products in test. We’d have to feel pretty comfortable to make the year-end claim, and we do. We don’t see an issue here, Generoux said.
IBM has been in the same testing process for some while however, and is still not able to promise that its SVC virtualization tool support for the latest DMX version of the Symmetrix, even though the SVC was launched in 2003.
The Tagmastore features 192 FC ports, compared to 64 on the outgoing Lightning. Cache is unchanged, because Hitachi said virtualization reduces the need for cache. The number of internal pathways has been doubled to 64, with total pathway throughput up 321%. Cache bandwidth has been boosted six-fold. Hitachi claimed that virtualization is better hosted on disk array controllers than it is on appliance or switches within a SAN.
Hitachi also argues, slightly controversially, that hosting on controllers reduces overheads because the virtualization is part of the storage system, and does not have to suffer the overhead of sending messages to the storage infrastructure to decide what to do with data. We’re at the end of the data trip – the only overhead we suffer is the one we decide we want, Hitachi said.