Hitachi attacks midrange

By Ann Silverthorn

—Last week, Hitachi Data Systems announced two new product lines for the midrange market. The first line, the TagmaStore Network Storage Controller model NSC55, is a rack-mounted storage virtualization engine. The second product line includes modular storage arrays that serve as successors to Hitachi's Thunder 9500 V Series. The modular line consists of the TagmaStore Adaptable Modular Storage systems (AMS200 and AMS500) and Workgroup Modular Storage system (WMS100).

Hitachi OEMs storage through Hewlett-Packard and Sun. The NSC55, for example, is sold by Sun as the StorEdge 9985 and by HP as the XP10000. Sun's 9985 is a scaled-down version of the 9900. HP soups up the storage controller with additional features such as disaster recovery, cluster extension capability, and connectivity to HP's NonStop high-availability servers. Instead of positioning the XP10000 as a midrange product, HP positions it at the lower end of its high-end XP family.

"Midrange customers have been limited in performing enterprise functions, such as replication, migration, and multi-tier storage," says Hu Yoshida, Hitachi's vice president and CTO. "They are limited by budget, don't usually have data centers, and have small IT staffs."

To compensate, midrange companies often rely on dual controllers in modular storage arrays, according to Yoshida. The problem with that, he says, is that the cache is in both controllers, so they have to maintain consistency between those two controllers. "If they lose one of the controllers, they're crippled. They usually have to stop and fix it before they can continue. Otherwise, they're subject to lost data."

Hitachi took its enterprise TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform (USP) down from 128
Fibre Channel ports to 48 ports for the NCS55, and from four cache modules down to two. It maintained 32 processors around a global cache so all processors see one cache image.

Other features of the NSC55 include an internal bandwidth of 12.1GBps, up to 64GB of cache, and support for up to 16,384 LUNs.

"One of the key advantages of the NSC55 architecture is that it can scale," says Tony Asaro, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group in his report, Hitachi Network Storage Controller - Changing the Midrange Game. "This scalability becomes important as the number of users, transactions, and capacity grows over time."

The NSC is designed for high availability, so users can change the configuration without having to take the system down. Hitachi also applied virtualization to the NSC55, so midrange companies can now use one set of tools for replication, migration, and multi-tier migrations. Yoshida says Hitachi's virtualization will compete against virtualization engines from vendors such as DataCore, StoreAge, and others.

In his research note, Hitachi Data Systems Shakes the Midrange, John Webster, senior analyst and partner at the Data Mobility Group, says that "Hitachi will more directly challenge competing network-based storage virtualization solutions on a price/performance basis, such as IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and EMC's recently announced Invista." (See EMC heats up virtualization )

In addition to the NSC55, Hitachi also announced the AMS200, AMS500, and WMS100 disk arrays. The AMS200 and AMS500 can be configured with a combination of Serial ATA (SATA) and Fibre Channel drives, while the WMS is SATA only.

Data Mobility Group's Webster notes that because of the high capacity of SATA drives, rebuild times have surfaced as an issue with SATA-based arrays.

To address drive rebuild and reliability issues, Hitachi introduced RAID 6 to its line of midrange arrays, which gives the units two parity drives. Hitachi claims that the RAID 6 implementation reduces rebuild times by 60%.

Hitachi also added "Application Optimized Storage" functionality, which allows users to optimize each array for different applications via cache partitioning. Although there's a dual cache, one in each controller, they can be synchronized so that the cache element is backed up at the other side.

Sample pricing for Hitachi's new product line-up is as follows:

NSC55 – 5TB with Fibre Channel drives - $150,000
AMS500 – 10TB with SATA and Fibre Channel drives - $70,000
AMS200 – 5TB with SATA and Fibre Channel drives - $40,000
WMS100 – 5TB with SATA drives - $20,000

This article was originally published on July 21, 2005