HUS VM is not virtual storage appliance

I was very confused with an recent HDS announcement, and it has been at the back of my mind for several weeks now.

On the last week of September 2012, HDS announced their Hitachi Unified Storage VM, aimed at small/medium enterprises (SMEs). Nothing wrong with that, except the VM part. I am not sure if it was the Computerworld author’s mistake, but he specifically mentioned VM as “virtual machine”. Check out the link here and the screenshot below:

It got me a bit riled up thinking this was some kind of virtual storage ala VMware Virtual Storage Appliance or NetApp ONTAP-V or even the early innovation of HP Lefthand Virtual SAN Appliance. Apparently not!

I did some short investigation and found Nigel Poulton’s blog which gave a fantastic dissection about the HUS VM. The VM is not virtual machine, but Virtual Midrange!

The HUS VM architecture is deep in ASICs, given HDS long history in ASICs design and manufacturing. SiliconFS, is the NAS front end, while the iSCSI and FC part are being serviced from the same HDS microcode of the higher end HDS VSP. Here’s a look at the hardware architectural diagram from Nigel’s blog:

There are plenty of bells and whistles in the HUS VM, armed with plenty of 8Gbps FC ports, SAS 6Gbps backend, SSDs, and software such as Dynamic Provisioning (thin provisioning) and Dynamic Tiering.

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All aboard Starboard

The Internet was abuzz with the emergence of a new storage player, uncloaking from stealth mode yesterday. Calling themselves Starboard Storage Systems, they plan to shake up the SMB/SME market with a full-featured storage system that competes with established players, but with a much more competitive pricing model.

Let’s face it. A cheaper price sells. That is the first door opener right there.

Their model, the AC72 has a starting price of USD$59,995. The capacity is 24TB, and also includes 3 SSDs for performance caching but I can’t really comment whether the price is a good price. It’s all relative and has different context and perceptions in different geographies. An HDD today is already 3 or 4TB, and a raw capacity of 24TB is pretty easy to fill up.

But Starboard Storage has a trick up its sleeve. An SMB/SME customer usually cannot afford to dedicate the storage systems for just one application. It cannot afford to, because it is too cost prohibitive. They are likely to have a mixed workload, with a combination of applications such as emails (think Exchange), databases (think SQL Server or mySQL), web applications, file server (think Windows Client) and server virtualization (think VMware or Hyper-V). They are likely to have a mix of Windows and Linux. Hence Starboard Storage combines all storage file- and block- protocols, in an “all-inclusive” license for NFS, CIFS, iSCSI and Fibre Channel.

An “all-inclusive” license is smart thinking because the traditional storage players such as EMC, IBM, NetApp and the rest of top 6 storage vendors today have far too prohibitive licenses cocktails. Imagine telling your prospect that your storage model is a unified storage and support all storage protocols, but they have to pay for have the protocol licenses turned on. In these days and times, the unified storage story is getting old and no longer a potent selling advantage.

The other features such as snapshots, thin provisioning should be a shoo-in, along with replication and flexible volumes (I am a NetApp guy ;-)) and aggregates (better known as Dynamic Storage Pools in Starboard Storage terminology) a must-have. I am really glad that Starboard Storage could the first to bundle everything in an “all-inclusive” license. Let’s hope the big 6 follow suit.

The AC72 also sports a SSD Accelerator tier for automatic performance caching, for both Reads and Writes. It is not known (at least I did not research this deep enough) whether the Accelerator Tier is also part of the “all-inclusive” license but if it is, then it is fantastic.

To Starboard Systems, their marketing theme are things related to high speed sailboats. The AC in AC72 stands for America’s Cup and AC72 is the high speed catamaran. Their technology is known as MAST (Mixed Workload, Application-Crafted Storage Tiering) architecture (that’s a mouthful) and the target is exactly that – a mixed workload environment – , just what the SMB/SME ordered.

The AC72 has dual redundant controllers for system availability and scales up to 474TB with the right expansion shelves. Starboard claims better performance in the Evaluator Group, IOmeter lab test, as shown in the graph below:

This allows Starboard to claim that they have the “ best density with leading dollar per GB and dollar per IOPS“.

To me, the window of opportunity is definitely there. For a long time, many storage vendors claim to be SMB/SME-friendly without being really friendly. SMB/SME customers have expanded their requirements and wanting more, but there are too much prohibitions and restrictions to get the full features from the respective storage systems vendors. The generosity of Starboard to include “all” licenses is definite a boon for SMB/SMEs and that means that someone has been listening to customers better than the others.

The appeal is there too, for Starboard Storage Systems, because looking at their specifications, I am sure they are not skimping on enterprise quality.

 

Speaking of enterprise storage systems, competitors in Taiwanese brands here in Malaysia such as Infortrend, QSAN aren’t exactly “cheap”. They might sound “cheap” because the local partners lack the enterprise mentality and frequently position these storage as cheap when comparing with the likes of EMC, HP, IBM and NetApp. The “quality” of these local partners in their ability to understand SMB/SME pain-points, ability to articulate benefits or design and architect the total storage and data management solutions for customers, contributes to the “cheap” mentality of customers.

I am not deriding these brands because they are good storage in their own right. But local partners of such brands tend to cut corners, cut price at the first customer’s hesitation, and worst of all, making outrageous claims, all contributing to the “cheap” mentality. These brands deserve better.

SMB/SME customers too, are at fault. Unlike what I have experienced with customers across the borders, both north and south of Malaysia, customers here take a very lackadaisical approach when they come to procure IT equipment and solutions for their requirements. They lack the culture to find out more and improve. It is always about comparing everything to the cheapest price!

Other brands such as Netgear, D-Link and QNAP are really consumer-grade storage disguising as “enterprise-class” storage for SMB/SME, most relying on lower grade CPUs such as Atom, Celeron and non-enterprise x86 CPUs and have less than 8GB of memory. I am not even sure if the memory sported in these boxes are ECC memory. Let’s not even go to the HDDs of these boxes, because most  SMB/SME customers in Malaysia lack the knowledge to differentiate MTBF hours of consumer and enterprise HDDs.

So, kudos to Starboard Storage Systems to package a superb bundle of enterprise features for an SMB/SME price, at least for the US market anyway. USD$59,995 is still a relatively high price in Malaysia because most SMB/SMEs still look at price as the point of discussion. But I believe Starboard brings a no-brainer, enterprise storage systems if they ever want to consider expansion in Malaysia.