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Hitachi Data Systems: A storage giant lost in translation

I just don't know what I'm supposed to be

The USP-V

The cornerstone of Hitachi's rise to enterprise storage success has been the Universal Storage Platform - Virtualised (USP-V). There is only one other product like it: IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC). The SVC resides in a storage area network (SAN) fabric, being basically an in-band virtualising storage controller, presenting a single storage pool built from the arrays connected to the SAN. The USP-V is a highly intelligent array controller than virtualises that array's capacity plus that of connected arrays, and presents this as a single storage pool.

It can also virtualise connected third-party arrays, making it easier for customers to adopt as they don't have to get rid of their existing storage. The SVC eventually gained this facility as well.

A core idea was to disaggregate the storage controller so that it could be developed separately from the back-end media enclosures, and scale in its performance and bandwidth separately from the back-end enclosures' capacity, to the point where it could manage and aggregate together several back-end arrays.

Chief scientist Claus Mikkelsen said that Hitachi SSG developed a large cache controller in the late 80s. It adopted a crossbar internal controller communications scheme in the 90s and that enabled the controller to have more intelligence and support more back-end storage. This scalable HiStar switch architecture was featured in its Lightning storage arrays in 2000.

Iwata said: "We announced [USP-V] storage virtualisation in 2004. It was not a unique concept but we made it work; we had a good guy." That guy was not just good, he was brilliant. Without him HDS would be just another Japanese storage also-ran. In fact we could say he is the Hitachi SSG equivalent of Moshe Yanai, the designer of EMC's original Symmetrix, yet no one in the west knows who he is.

The HP USP-V OEM relationship is with Hitachi SSG. The Sun USP-V reseller deal was struck with HDS. Mikkelsen said: "HP became a USP-V OEM in 2004 when the USP-V was already done. HP had no input to the design and, despite what they say, very little input since." HP has been a Hitachi OEM since 1999.

Mikkelson said this about the USP-V's development: "We invested a lot in disk array systems development; very different from Fujitsu and NEC. Disk array systems is a great success story with collaboration between R&D and software and networking." He reckons IBM is the only other company in the IT space with the same breadth of development resource as Hitachi, but it's very silo'd. Hitachi SSG was able to develop and refine the USP-V because it could integrate relevant technologies from across the whole Hitachi organisation.

Iwata said: "With the USP-V in terms of technology we are still ahead. Of course someone could come along and beat it."

Today HDS has more than 4,100 employees and operates in more than 100 countries. Its storage product range runs from the USP-V, through the USP-VM, the AMS mid-range, the SMS low-end, the HCAP archive box, the BluArc-sourced NAS and a range of external storage products. It has also taken on responsibility for selling Hitachi servers, such as the Blade Symphony products, and also sells the UCP (Universal Compute Platform), Hitachi's entry into the integrated IT stack business. This incidentally already has a networking component.

Mikkelson said: "There is a networking element in there but we can't say anything about it. [The] UCP will be available in early 2011. We're protecting the rights of publicly-traded companies." So some other company or companies are supplying networking component to UCP and HDS doesn't want to or can't say who they are. New software is also being developed to manage the UCP stack.

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Next page: The HDS mystery