HDS Adds Thin Provisioning To Its Virtualization With New Enterprise Array


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Hitachi Data Systems Monday unveiled the latest version of its high-end storage array with a wide range of software enhancements including the first thin provisioning capabilities from an enterprise-class array.

HDS OEM customer Hewlett-Packard also unveiled its version of the new array, with reseller partner Sun Microsystems also expected to announce in the near future the availability of the array to its channel.

HDS's new Universal Storage Platform V (USP V) is a follow-on to the USP TagmaStore which the vendor introduced in September 2004.

Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider that works with both HDS and Sun, said that the new USP V is only the latest in a series of advancements from HDS that also include its acquisition in February of data archiving software vendor Archivas, and its December investment in high-end NAS vendor BlueArc.

"With their high-performance NAS, their thin provisioning, and their archiving software, there's nothing HDS can't provide," Teter said. "They've rounded out their entire feature set. It's not revolutionary, but a vast improvement. And Hitachi is the most reliable system we sell, hands down."

In addition to native internal storage capacity of up to 332 Tbytes, the USP family of arrays allows solution providers and their customers can attach other vendors' storage arrays into a virtual dynamic storage pool behind the USP controllers. This allows expansion of the USP's capacity by utilizing customers' previous equipment up to a maximum of 246.7 petabytes of external storage on the USP V, compared to up to 31.7 petabytes for the original USP.

Also new with the USP V is 4-Gbps Fibre Channel, compared to 2-Gbps for the USP, along with a 40 percent increased in the total maximum input-output operations per second.

Solution providers said the real change is in the USP V's increased software functionality.

"The 4-Gbit Fibre Channel enhancement is a bonus, but the software is why I'm excited," said Jim VanderMey, vice president of technical operations at Open Systems Technologies, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based HP solution provider.

Solution providers said that the most important change with the new USP V is the addition of thin provisioning.

Thin provisioning allows a storage administrator to allocate more capacity to a specific application or user than is physically available under the assumption that not all those applications and users will need the entire allocated space simultaneously. This allows extra physical capacity to be installed at a later date as the total amount of space actually used approached the storage device's capacity.

It is about time one of the big enterprise-class storage vendors brings thin provisioning capabilities to the market, said Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based HP solution provider.

Baldwin said that nearly every day he sees cases where customers really need thin provisioning in order to cut problems related to overprovisioning.

For instance, he said, a large customer's application administrator might say he requires an additional 1 Tbyte of storage for SAP, and asks the Oracle administrator who is just as likely to allocate 1.5 Tbytes because he knows that SAP never has enough storage. Then the storage admin bumps the request to 2 Tbytes based on his experience.

"That doesn't seem so much, until customers add extra capacity for test purposes and for quality control," Baldwin said. "So now the application is loaded into production, but instead of allocating 1 Tbyte or 2 Tbytes for something that really needs 400 Gbytes to 500 Gbytes, the customer just bought 8 Tbytes."

The really sad part, said Baldwin, comes when the customer later decides to cut the excess capacity. "Let's say they're running 500 Gbytes of data on 8 Tbytes of capacity, and they have 400 Gbytes in reserve," he said. "To shrink the data, they traditionally need to copy the data, but they don't have enough unallocated space. So when they overprovision, they need to buy more capacity just to shrink it."

While that example shows the challenge of overprovisioning under three layers of administrators, Baldwin said he has seen the same with four layers. "Everybody adds to the storage allocation to cover their butts," he said. "It's hugely inefficient."

The thin provision, when used in conjunction with the USP family's virtualization capability, is a significant advance in capabilities, said Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist at HDS.

The combination allows the assembly of a large pool of storage on multiple devices which is seen by the server as a single device which can be parceled out and expanded as needed, Mikkelsen said. "Now, instead of provisioning storage every six months for an application, customers can provision it for their overall needs," he said.

The ability to do thin provisioning across virtualized storage is currently possible with the USP V, Mikkelsen said, but it is a feature that HDS has yet to qualify with non-Hitachi arrays.

Because HDS is adding functionality such as virtualization and thin provisioning into its controller, the company is making it easier to start offering services-oriented storage solutions, which is analogous to software as a service in other parts of the market, Mikkelsen said.

"Object storage, file and block replication, security, they can all be offered to customers as a service," he said.

The USP V is expected to start shipping in June. List price starts at $250,000 with five hard drives, the minimum needed to boot the system.

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