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HUS VM – Hitachi’s New Midrange Baby

The acquisition of BlueArc by Hitachi/HDS just over 12 months ago enabled the company to start producing more integrated unified products, which have been branded under the name HUS (Hitachi Unified Storage).  The latest announcement, made on 25th September 2012 (and discussed at the HDS Bloggers’ Day) is a new platform taking the HUS NAS component (i.e. BlueArc) and using a cut-down VSP to deliver mid-range unified platform that can also use external storage resources.

Background

Hitachi’s previous high-end array, the USP-V also had a baby brother known as the USP-VM.  This was a cut down deployment of the USP in a class that HDS referred to as “enterprise modular”.  Prior to that, Hitachi offered the NSC55, which at the outset appeared to be a pure virtualisation solution but was actually shipped with disk.  These stripped down versions of enterprise arrays seem to fit a strange category.  They are probably not best deployed by enterprise customers as they don’t have the same scalability and the midrange products (AMS2000 series and now HUS) were probably cheaper and so more appropriate for mid-range customers.  However the benefit of using the enterprise technology is that of external storage virtualisation, which forms a key piece of Hitachi’s storage strategy.  The USP-VM, which was rack-mounted using standard power supplies, provided the same features as the USP but without the implications of deploying three-phase power and enterprise-class data centre facilities.

Enter HUS VM

The new clumsily-named HUS VM platform is the evolution in the stripped down enterprise option.  It offers the same features and functionality as a VSP (fitting what I’ve heard described as Tier 1.5) and can be combined with the BlueArc NAS blade to provide a unified protocols storage appliance that can also virtualise external storage arrays.  Without a doubt the benefits to customers are ones of ease of deployment and cost.  Having compatibility with the enterprise range of products provides enterprise customers the ability to deploy HUS VM in branch environments  and still maintain data replication and management tool compatibility.  All of this comes with the goodness of being able to plant some of the physical storage on an external array.

Custom Hardware

HUS VM Architecture

What’s not so obvious from the announcement of this new platform is the engineering that has been put into it.  The VSP architecture introduced custom ASICs that offloaded front and back-end director processing (FED/BED) to Virtual Storage Processors, making the overall design much more efficient, as it reduced the risk of over or under-utilised directors.  With HUS VM, Hitachi have collapsed the functionality of seven existing ASICs & processor chips into one custom ASIC.  This provides the benefits of reduced cost, reduced risk in component failure (there’s less to go wrong or to require replacement) and of course reductions in environmental requirements.

Where Next?

The new HUS VM design reminds me of another Hitachi platform, the previous block-based AMS range of arrays.  In fact, the similarity made me question the ultimate aim of producing this new platform; will Hitachi simply drop the old AMS block-platform in favour of the HUS VM in the future? It makes sense not to run multiple products and if one product can be made to hit different market segments and their price categories, then it makes sense not to run two product lines and harmonise them into a single device.

One point worth considering; HP also resell the VSP as the P9500.  This is identical hardware, with perhaps a few microcode tweaks, but they are essentially the same base product.  Will HUS VM be available to HP customers or is this an HDS-developed platform only?

The Architect’s View

Hitachi are aiming the HUS VM at the mid-range “Tier 1.5″ market while retaining all of the goodness of the VSP.  The idea of retaining some features in silicon perhaps shows a trend towards optimising those functions that can be done with commodity hardware while retaining ASICs only where necessary.  We could be witnessing the consolidation of their block-storage platforms too.  There’s more to discuss around how NAS is implemented in this architecture, what the BlueArc acquisition could really mean for true integration, all of which will have to wait for next time.

Disclaimer: I recently attended the Hitachi Bloggers’ Day 2012.  My flights and accommodation were covered by Hitachi during the trip, however there is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time when attending the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

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