HDS refreshes its midrange products

The storage vendor introduces new technologies traditionally found in higher end products.

Hitachi Data Systems has introduced virtualization capabilities into its midrange products, upping the stakes in the battle to woo small and medium-sized businesses.

The storage maker announced Monday the TagmaStore Network Storage Controller model NSC55, touted as a pared-down version of the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform (USP), its high-end storage range launched last September.

The NSC55, which is targeted at the upper-end of the SMB market, carries the same controller-based virtualization engine found in the older TagmaStore. The product enables customers to centrally view and manage both HDS and its competitors' storage systems--of up to 16 petabytes--in one big virtual pool.

"The major difference between the NSC55 and the USP100 (the lowest in the high-end TagmaStore range), is that the NSC55 is rack-mount and carries half the performance and half the capacity," said Bruce Symes, vice-president and general manager for Asia, HDS, in an interview with ZDNet asia. "Everything you can get on the TagmaStore USP, you can get on the NSC55."

The cost of a 5-terabyte (TB) NSC55 system with fiber channel (FC) drives starts from US$155,000. In comparison, a TagmaStore USP100, similarly configured, starts from US$200,000.

The NSC55 starts at a capacity of 365GB and scales up to 72TB. It comes with 48 FC ports, 32 mainframe (16 FICON and 16 ESCON) ports, and eight network-attached storage (NAS) blade ports.

Another high-end feature that has been brought down to the mid-tier level is cache partitioning, which mitigates a common problem that plagues even mid-tier companies, according to Symes.

"For example, an application, such as Veritas NetBackup, which sucks up a lot of cache, may cause an Oracle database program to slow down when both are used in tandem. With the NSC55, the user can now specify how much cache to allocate to the Oracle application so that it "never gets overwhelmed", Symes explained. SMBs can therefore utilize this feature to ensure that mission-critical programs get sufficient cache, he added.

The vendor also unveiled three new modular storage systems aimed at the low and middle segments of the SMB market. They are the TagmaStore Adaptable Modular Storage and Workgroup Modular Storage (models AMS500, AMS200, and WMS100). The three products will replace the Hitachi Thunder 9500V Series, while HDS will retain the Thunder 9885V at the high end of the midrange.

The AMS systems support both FC drives and lower-cost serial ATA (SATA) drives, and up to 4Gbps FC connectivity, while the WMS system is configured only with SATA drives.

The NSC55, AMS 500 and AMS200 are available now, while the WMS100 will be out in August. According to Symes, HDS has a "statement of intent" to support iSCSI on all the products and will provide NAS capability "early next year".

With this announcement, HDS has become the latest vendor to introduce new storage hardware for the SMB segment, joining the likes of IBM and Hewlett-Packard. It also marks the first time that HDS has refreshed its midrange products in three years, since launching the Thunder 9500V series in 2002.

However, a market report shows that HDS has some catching up to do in the SMB market.

Research firm IDC said that in the last quarter of 2004, HP led the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) mid-tier storage system market with 30 percent market share, followed by EMC in second place with 28 percent. Trailing behind in third, fourth, fifth and sixth places are IBM, Network Appliance, HDS, and Sun, respectively.

"This is not just a hardware leapfrog but a software or virtualization leapfrog," Graham Penn, associate vice president of IDC Asia-Pacific's storage research, said of HDS' midrange product refresh. "They introduced (virtualization) in the high end with notable success, and are bringing it down to the modular midrange," he noted.

IBM's Storage Volume Controller (SVC) and EMC's Invista, both virtualization products, are currently aimed at high-end users only.

Highlighting the storage vendors' challenges, Penn cautioned that it may be hard to explain the virtualization concept to mid-tier customers. "It is hard to explain to users…No one solution is appropriate for everyone. And (for customers) to buy on specifications alone is to miss out on the subtleties of their environment, the types of data they've got, and the type of applications they're running," he said.

"HDS is not unique in terms of capability, but they're unique in the way they're doing it, and it's both effective and cost-effective for some users. Hitachi, like EMC, is a server-independent vendor. It makes sense for Hitachi to offer something that virtualizes legacy equipment from multiple vendors," he added.

Not surprisingly, HDS' latest move drew derision from one of its biggest foes, EMC.

When asked to comment HDS' announcement, Steve Coad, EMC South Asia's general manager, said: "Clearly, this is a knee-jerk reaction to EMC's runaway success with Clariion, our fastest growing mid-tier storage product family."

Coad claimed that EMC has sold over 170,000 arrays into the mid-tier storage space.

He added: "While storage virtualization is an important technology, it is overkill for an SMB environment. What SMBs really need is a solution that solves their everyday problems."

According to AMI-Partners, a firm specializing in SMB market research, SMBs spent more than US$10 billion on IT storage hardware, software and services in 2004.