Hitachi partners to enter new storage space

Hitachi Data Systems Corp. entered the network attached storage (NAS) market Wednesday, distributing three products manufactured by Virginia-based Network Storage Solutions Inc. (NSS).

Hitachi will distribute the NSS branded NAS Engine, µStor-II and SPANStor-GT NAS appliances worldwide, effective immediately. The move will allow Hitachi to compete on a broader front with storage systems manufacturer EMC Corp. The companies are already head to head in the high-end storage market.

Extending its product range will allow Hitachi to address demands from customers for multi-function storage systems, said analysts.

"I see this as a move in response to customer demand for a product that does both SAN (storage area network) and NAS functions," said John Webster, senior analyst with Illuminata Inc. "I think a significant proportion of the high end customer base is looking for arrays that can play in both environments."

Customers could, for example, attach the new NAS appliances to large storage boxes such as Hitachi's Freedom Storage Lightning 9900 or Thunder 9200 systems, and allocate part of the bigger units' capacity for use by NAS applications, while other parts of the array are used by the SAN, according to Kelly Tanaka, director of NAS technologies at Hitachi.

One Hitachi customer currently using a Lighting 9960 in combination with NSS products said the pairing works well for data transfer speed but warned that software from NSS lacks some of the functionality he wants.

"The good part is that it's an easy combination to set up and does not take up too much space," said Albert Barajas, vice president of engineering at managed services and hosting company S4R Inc. "It is pretty fast as well, but they are behind on software features."

The NAS appliances use NSS's SPANStor operating system, which the small company prides itself on even though some customers like Barajas say they are looking for more out of their software. Many of the basic storage features are there, but Barajas would like to see better failover, backup and overall functionality choice in the future.

"These guys are like a '68 Corvette -- just don't ask for cup holders," Barajas said.

Hitachi admits that NSS is lacking some of the rich software features EMC is often praised for and has set some guidelines for its smaller partner to follow.

"That is one of the downsides of going with a smaller company," Tanaka said. "They have been focusing on performance more than feature and function. They are going to add it; it's already on the roadmap."

At Hitachi's prodding, NSS plans to add Fibre Channel support across its product line -- only the µStor-II has Fibre Channel right now. NSS will also focus on failover features and tools for restarting the appliances more quickly, according to Fred Diamond, director of marketing at NSS.

Hitachi may also consider acquiring NSS at some point in the future.

"That may come to term," Tanaka said of the possibility of acquiring NSS.

In the meantime, customers like Barajas say they will get some immediate benefits from the partnership.

"Essentially, I can just call one number for support now," Barajas said.

The 1U (1.75 inch-high) NAS Engine will start at US$22,500. The Fibre Channel-ready 2U µStor-II starts at $31,000, and the larger 6U SPANStor-GT will begin at $93,000. Customers using the Hitachi 9900 systems with a large NSS appliance could reach up to a maximum of 70T bytes of storage capacity, according to Diamond.

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