Hitachi pushes Thunder box downstream

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Hitachi Ltd's storage division has refreshed its mid-range Thunder box and pushed it further down-market, chasing sales in the growing mid-range storage market.

At the same time the company has fleshed out its software line-up with a point product which reports on I/O performance and capacity usage, but is not an SRM package according to Hitachi.

The latest variant of the Thunder, called the 9500V and due to ship in January, is up to 2.3 times faster than its predecessor - according to Hitachi and its "internal benchmarks." Throughput has been boosted by swapping the existing array controller processors for the latest variant of IBM's PowerPC processor, and developing the device's ASIC processors. The 9500V also includes an option for the latest 146GB disk drives, which are double the size of current drives and should cut the price per megabyte of storage capacity by up to 40% in some applications, although they will also reduce performance by increasing the seek-time of the drive heads.

Although the update pushes the Thunder up-market as well as downmarket by increasing its total capacity to over 30TB, most of the new sales action it generates will be further down-market. The 9531, 9532 and 9533 models in the new series will span in capacity from 358GB to just under 1TB. The previous smallest Thunder scaled up to around 1.5TB, and sold for around 6 cents per megabyte capacity. The 9530 machines will certainly be cheaper than that - with or without the latest 146GB drives - but Hitachi was unable to provide a list price.

"There's no question that we've packaged the 9530 to go after the market for distributed and small enterprise sales," said Scott Genereux, vice president of marketing at Hitachi.

Last year spending on RAID storage slumped by around 20%, and although it has stabilized since then, buyers are leaning towards mid-range devices - referred to as "modular" by some analysts. Customers who are themselves mid-sized are also increasing their spending faster than enterprise or large corporate buyers.

"There's a huge opportunity here. A lot of customers in this category are growing faster than their enterprise equivalents," said Phil Townsend, director of product marketing at Hitachi. Among the vertical sectors where this is happening is the medical industry where regulations are requiring records to be made more easily accessible for longer periods of time, and where the falling cost of storage is increasing the use of digitized x-ray images, according to Townsend. The medical sector was named along with the retail industry as a target for the Thunder when it was launched in January 2001.

Hitachi named EMC Corp's Clariion, Hewlett Packard Co's EVA and Sun Microsystems Inc's T3 as the Thunder's most obvious competition. It said the T3, which is a relatively uncompetitive machine, represented competition if only because of its installed base. The Thunder 9500 V offers three times the capacity per footprint square meter of the EVA, over twice that of the Clariion, Hitachi claimed. "If the T3 hasn't got the high-capacity drives yet then we're about five times their density," Townsend said.

Eric Sheppard, analyst at IDC, said: "The mid-range is certainly where we're going to see competition intensify. Right now we're seeing IBM's FastT ship fast and furiously, and the Dell-EMC relationship is certainly bearing fruit," he said.

The "V" at the end of the name for the latest Thunder series does not signify a virtualized array, but a "virtual-assist" array. By that Hitachi is referring to the ability of multiple servers running different operating systems to use the same port on a 9500 at the same time. "It doesn't produce a pool of storage, or a view of heterogeneous storage as one pool. That is something that will be done by the next layer of software above. We deliberately took the step of calling it [the 9500V] virtual-assist," Townsend said. Hitachi claims that the ability to handle multiple different servers on one port concurrently is unique to the Thunder 9500 V.

Although the HiCommand Tuning Manager software launched by Hitachi yesterday reports on capacity usage, the company insisted it is not an SRM product. SRM software tracks capacity usage and allows IT departments to charge end-user departments according to the amount of storage taken by individual applications, or to allocate storage capacity to individual users or applications and monitor it. It is a hot topic, prompting this year's purchases of SRM-specialist TrelliSoft Inc by IBM Corp and NTP Software's SRM product by Veritas Software Corp. Hitachi customers looking for equivalent products are directed towards the products of InterSan Inc, which Hitachi announced that it was reselling this October.

Tuning Manager however does not allow charge-back or quota management although it will issue monitor and issue alerts if storage consumption exceeds set limits, but for devices rather than end-users or applications. It operates more at the device level. "Tuning Manager is more about physical and logical management of devices. It allows you to move data if and when hotspots arise. It's a pro-active real-time tool," Townsend said.

Hitachi's software strategy centers around its recently-launched HiCommand set of APIs which are intended to make life easier for third parties to write software that works with Hitachi arrays. Although of course Hitachi is no less dedicated than any other storage company to saying that its longer term goal is interoperability via open standards such as SNIA's CIM and BlueFin or SMI specifications. Where there are no third-party products to fill a gap in management software range - as it says the case was with Tuning Manager - Hitachi will fill it with in-house developed software.

© ComputerWire

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