HDS announces flash strategy, its own SSD controller

Flash controller to boost SSD performance 4X

Hitachi Data Systems today lifted the covers off its flash roadmap, saying that like EMC, it will put NAND flash products in servers, storage and appliances in order to enable compute acceleration, caching and high-performance storage.

HDS executives didn't go into detail about future products, but said its parent company, Hitachi Ltd., will be building its own flash controller technology.

HDS also announced a new flash acceleration feature in the form of a firmware upgrade on its Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) flagship array that will increase scalability and performance by three times and lower I/O latency by 65%.

Using an all-flash configuration and the flash acceleration upgrade, the VSP array can achieve more than 1 million random read I/Os per second, according to Roberto Basilio, vice president of Infrastructure Platforms Product Management at HDS.

"Basically, we have rearranged the way the cache is used so it's more flash friendly," Basilio said. "It's faster to go through the cache when you use solid state drives. We also improved the wide striping scalability with hard disk drives."

Wide striping is the method HDS uses to access either hard drives or SSDs when thin provisioning is in use. That allows data to be written across a wide array of disk drives in order to increase throughput and avoid bottlenecks that one I/O path to a disk drive could cause.

"The result is lower I/O response times ... reducing I/O latency," Basilio said.

The flash acceleration feature is available through a microcode update on the VSP and is enabled without disrupting service with a single license key. VSP customers can assess the performance benefits of flash acceleration by obtaining a free trial license from HDS.

New flash controller

Basilio would not disclose when Hitachi Ltd.'s new flash controller will ship, but said the company will release more information in the next quarter.

What HDS would say about the controller is that it expects it to increase sustained read/write throughput on SSDs in its arrays by four times current generation SSDs based on multi-level cell (MLC) flash.

"We will not be dependent on any vendor per se for the SSDs. We can use any. If tomorrow Samsung comes up with a drive that has four times the capacity of today's NAND or Toshiba comes up with 8X NAND, we can use that," Basilio said.

Like other flash controllers, Basilio said Hitachi's will optimize the way data is written to SSDs or PCIe flash cards, reducing the wear and extending the overall endurance of the drives.

The result will be a drive endurance guarantee of five years compared with the three-year warranty offered by Hitachi today, Basilio said.

The new controller will also offer secure data erase capability, meaning overwriting data several times, along with inline block data compression.

Basilio said while HDS's roadmap is similar to what EMC has already done, he said it differs in that HDS is not acquiring pieces of technology to address IT needs.

"Between speed and end-to-end management, what really matters is end-to-end management. Users don't want to be surrounded by silos," Basilio said. "EMC is trying to do that by buying parts ... and assembling them. We're building our own technology to surround our platform with that capability."

"At product release you get the integration up front. When you acquire a company, that integration comes much later," added Patrick Allaire, a vice president of product marketing at HDS.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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