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The decline of big iron in the storage department accelerated this week as HDS announced a cut-down model of its virtualising storage controller, able to manage both HDS and non-HDS arrays. Called the TagmaStore NSC55, the device is aimed at midrange buyers, but HDS admits it will also appeal to larger organisations - potentially in place of its bigger boxes.

Alongside this, the company has also rebranded its modular storage line, replacing its Thunder family with TagmaStore AMS (adaptable modular storage), which can mix up to 88TB of Fibre Channel and SATA drives, and WMS (workgroup modular storage), hosting up to 42TB of SATA only. HDS adds that Sun and HP are also signed up to sell the new systems.

First off, we've all been under a misapprehension - even the analysts. The name TagmaStore doesn't specify virtualisation after all; instead it's the new HDS brand for storage in general, so even a SATA disk array will be a TagmaStore something-or-other. Right, so no confusion there then...

Meanwhile, the virtualising gear will go out under snappy and unique nicknames [yes, that's irony] - USP (universal storage platform) at the high end, and NSC (network storage controller) for the midrange. Mmmm. Can anyone else smell a palace coup by some more-demented-than-usual branding and image strategists?

Anyway, back to the plot: the NSC55 uses the same microcode as the USP, and will make tiered storage and ILM practical for mid-sized customers, according to Roger Turner, storage systems director for HDS EMEA.

"We've taken the virtualisation of the USP, kept the multiprocessor and caching architecture, and added the best bits of modular storage - inexpensive racking, small footprint," he said. "Virtualisation is the fundamental technology needed before you can say 'My server doesn't care where this information is stored' - the NSC introduces that to a lower market."

Is virtualisation and ILM ready for mid-size organisations, though? Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Tony Asaro thinks so: "The NSC55 is an enterprise-class solution that provides the same compelling value as the USP, but for medium-size customers," he said.

Others aren't so sure. "I think this kind of function appeals more at the high end," noted Claus Egge, IDC's European storage research director. "The installation can't be too small, and it's also to do with the skillset in the IT department. You can't really sell this unless the customer understands the proposition."

Roger Turner acknowledged that modular storage - of which NSC is a part - is taking an ever bigger share of a market that was once restricted to big mainframe-class arrays, but said it's not a problem. Sure, NSC will cannibalise some USP business, but it's better to eat your own than have someone else eat them.

"Midrange technology is broadening its appeal," he said. "We are seeing high end businesses that have traditionally used cache-coherent storage looking at their environment and asking, 'Can we reduce costs by using this cheaper storage that's gradually accreting functionality?'"

He argued there will still be a place for the USP and its ilk, and denied stories that NSC was needed because USP was too expensive for many buyers: "USP is selling like hot cakes - our biggest problem is building enough of them."

Overall though, it's a big win for modular storage versus the big box. More and more organisations are looking at tiering their storage to better suit application needs, and increasingly virtualisation is the glue that holds it all together.

On that basis, Claus Egge applauded NSC as a speedy move. "Hitachi has got in there very quickly, with a low end version of its high end technology - it's got a headstart over the competition," he said. ®

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HDS goes multidimensional on ILM
HDS aims virtual Lightning at EMC, IBM
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