Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) today announced a new version of its enterprise-class storage controller, the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform, which replaces the Universal Storage Platform V (USPV) as its flagship offering.
With multicore processors, virtualized servers and distributed computing, data centers require a more flexible storage platform, one that can grow dynamically to meet application needs on the fly, according to Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at HDS.
With the new hardware platform, HDS adds the capability to use SAS instead of Fibre Channel drives, along with solid-state drives (SSDs) and SATA drives, all within a single shelf on the array. Users can also mix and match 2.5-in. and 3.5-in. drives in the same shelf.
HDS claims its new hardware, which comes with refreshed management software, can connect multi-vendor servers, networks and storage arrays under a single management interface. And it automates storage provisioning through a much finer-grained thin-provisioning process for both structured and unstructured data applications.
"Hitachi is responding to what the customers want," said Rick Villars, an analyst with market research firm IDC. "They're saying they want them to make a more modular, efficient system that's easier to manage and administer."
HDS removed the word "storage" from its Hitachi Storage Command Suite, saying the management software now offers a more flexible method of controlling performance and power in the data center.
"Everyone is talking about the cloud and for the cloud we need agile infrastructures with multi-tenancy, but what they're getting from most vendors are siloed solutions. This platform was actually built for virtualized server environments," Yoshida said. "The redesigned Hitachi Command Suite is more business focused rather than just storage focused."
With the new storage platform, Hitachi said it's adding more granular dynamic provisioning at the page level, which represents 42MB of data, versus moving data at the volume level. So the new HDS Virtual Storage Platform can spread a single volume of data across multiple tiers of drives to optimize performance at the page level, depending on what portion of the volume requires the highest performance.
"What it does is allow you to have a single LUN [logical unit number] span multiple tiers of storage. That's new," said Claus Mikkelsen, HDS' CTO of Storage Architectures. "Before, you could have a 50TB Oracle database and 95% of it hadn't been touched in months, but it's still on tier one storage. Now, those inactive parts of the database will sink to the bottom level of the storage tiers automatically. There's no physical aspect to a LUN now with Hitachi Dynamic Provisioning."
Mikkelsen said the new dynamic provisioning will relieve administrators from having to consider performance tuning, how they'll lay out RAID configurations for applications and other performance-centric tasks. "It just doesn't need to be considered any more," he said. "Just think of a LUN now as just a container with no physical aspect."
To perform its dynamic provisioning, the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform tracks metadata associated with file and block data and automatically migrates pages to whatever disk drives are available based on performance needs. For example, data within a single volume can be migrated to SSDs, SAS drives or SATA drives all in the same shelf in the array.
"The point is, we need to be able to scale up in a dramatic fashion," Mikkelsen said. "What happens is you can get hundreds of drives and heads participating in read operations. So we see a tremendous improvement in those cache and friendly workloads."
Mikkelsen said the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), an independent research firm in Milford, Mass., in testing showed the new array improved performance on an Exchange 2003 server by 700%.
Mark Peters, an analyst with ESG, said adding a SAS drive option to the array, simplifying its management software and the more granular automated tiering are all significant upgrades, but they're not unique to HDS. What Peters said HDS is doing a better job at is marketing its products, something the company has struggled with prior the the launch of the latest version of its high-end array. "People I trust say Hitachi has the best high-end product there is, and yet many more people go and buy EMC and IBM," he said. "So Hitachi has always strapped with this challenge of being really, really good but not as successful as its competition." Peters said with the new array, it HDS has been more successful at getting a succinct message out to its customers, to analysts and the news media.
Villars agreed with Peters that most every top tier storage vendor offers thin provisioning and dynamic data migration among internally tiered architecture. They just offer it in various forms. For example, EMC introduced its Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) tool on its DMX array earlier this year. It then extended that capability to its midrange Clariion array line as well.
However, where HDS continues to lead is in the ability to use other competing vendors' storage arrays as part of its pool of capacity behind its storage controller, Villars said.
"That goes part and parcel with users not wanting to pay for data migration, but it also allows them to get better use of existing assets for their operational side," he said.
In a separate announcement, Hewlett-Packard, which rebrands HDS' storage technology, will be reselling Hitachi's Virtual Storage Platform under the name StorageWorks P9500. The new array will replace both the HP XP 20000 and XP 24000, since it scales from five to 2,000 disks.
Sun also rebrands Hitachi's high-end array for resale, but has not yet made a formal announcement.
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 email@example.com.