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Hitachi VSP has new all-flash F Series, inline compression

Hitachi Data Systems launched a new Hitachi VSP F Series all-flash array with new denser custom flash modules featuring on-board inline data compression.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) today took steps to distinguish its Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) in the crowded all-flash array (AFA) space. HDS introduced a new F Series and denser second-generation, custom-built flash modules with inline data compression.

The Hitachi VSP F Series is the first model equipped with only the company’s flash module drives (FMDs) without the option for hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SSDs). In the past, customers could purchase Hitachi’s VSP or Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS) in a flash-only configuration, but HDS did not offer a specific all-flash SKU.

The new Hitachi VSP F400, F600 and F800 models each offer raw flash capacity ranging from 14.4 TB to 256 TB, or effective capacity up to 448 TB with compression factored in. The models differ in controller speed and cache capacity. For instance, the F400 has a 128 GB cache and maxes out at 375,000 IOPS, and the F800 has a 512 GB cache and maximum random performance of 1.4 million IOPS.

"There are only three configurations, so you’re not going to get lots and lots of flexibility. But, if you want the least expensive, easiest way into Hitachi flash, that’s why the F Series exists," said Bob Madaio, HDS senior director of product marketing. 

Madaio said many customers would not buy or consider the HUS VM in all-flash array conversations because of industry definitions that excluded the product because customers could add HDDs.

"They wanted to just talk about all-flash," Madaio said. "There is a different emotional response when you tell them it’s an only-flash system, even if they know that the hardware today is largely the same or the same. They want an all-flash experience."

In addition to launching the VSP F Series, HDS added enhanced models of its VSP G Series, which customers can purchase with only SSDs, FMDs or a combination.

The main differences between the hybrid G Series loaded with only FMDs and the flash-only F Series are packaging and pricing. G Series pricing is a la carte while the F Series is bundled with all the hardware and software. For instance, the starting list price is $218,200 for the F400 versus $248,750 for the equivalent FMD-only G Series with eight 1.6 TB FMD DC2, the same software, support, maintenance and installation, according to HDS.

Software that ships with the F Series includes Hitachi’s Storage Virtualization Operating System (SVOS), with provisioning and partition managers, a performance monitor and volume management; Hitachi’s ShadowImage, Thin Image, Replication Manager for data protection; and Hitachi Data Center Analytics. Optional are the Hitachi Automation Director, Remote Replication, Analytics Package and Encryption.

Madaio said HDS will add software and flash-specific features that further distinguish the Hitachi VSP F Series from the G Series. He said HDS is looking into flash-specific performance enhancements, customized migration and additional systems for smaller environments.

HDS is one of a handful of storage vendors to manufacture its own flash modules, along with IBM, SanDisk and Violin Memory. The new multilevel cell (MLC)-based FMD Data Compression 2 (DC2) is equipped with quad-core ARM processors and is available at raw capacity points of 1.6 TB, 3.2 TB and 6.4 TB, doubling the prior maximum raw capacity of Hitachi’s first-generation FMDs.

One of the key new capabilities is on-board compression, in which the data reduction is handled on the FMD device rather than the storage controller. On-board compression reduces the performance impact and eliminates the potential bottleneck of the storage controller.

"What they’ve done with their in-house custom flash drives is the most interesting thing. There’s serious processing power in the Hitachi flash drive, and that’s where they’re doing their compression," said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research. "Compression halves the effective size of the database, and databases are a major application for all-flash arrays. By adding high-performance compression, Hitachi has made its all-flash arrays much more attractive."

Hitachi claims the FMD DC2 delivers 50% more read IOPS than its first-generation FMDs delivers and up to five times the write performance of standard solid-state drives (SSDs). The FMD DC2 can also reduce latency to less than a millisecond, even at petabyte scale, through multi-queuing technology that allows the prioritization of I/O, according to HDS.

Other new enhancements in the F Series include predefined service templates and automated management workflows to ease self-service provisioning of flash storage with the Hitachi Automation Director and support for third-party storage monitoring with the Hitachi Data Center Analytics tool.

One product gap in the Hitachi VSP line is block-level deduplication. Hitachi currently supports only accelerated file-storage dedupe in the VSP F Series and G Series.

"That means that you can expect two-to-one data reduction where in general if you had dedupe and compression, you could expect four- or five-to-one," said Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage.net. "For some use cases like VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure], deduplication is a game-changer."

But overall, Marks views the new flash-only F Series as a good move for HDS. He said it simplifies the purchase of all-flash arrays for customers and enables the product to become more directly competitive with AFA vendors such as EMC’s XtremIO and Pure Storage.

"They can say, ‘Here’s our model,’" Marks said. "And it’s really hard to do that when you’re dealing with a complex configuration that requires the sales guy to sit down with you for a day to figure out exactly what your needs are."

The Hitachi VSP F Series will enable the product to qualify for Gartner Inc.’s Magic Quadrant on solid-state arrays (SSAs) because it is a dedicated product with a designated model number and name and is 100% solid-state based technology, according to Joseph Unsworth, a research vice president at Gartner.

"Our definitions exclude the use of any HDD in an SSA when used for primary storage, either at initial sale or ever," Unsworth wrote in an e-mail.

"When the Magic Quadrant comes out, or more importantly when the market share numbers come out, and they don’t even appear, people who didn’t know that requirement was there assume they didn’t sell enough, when the truth is they sold plenty," Marks said. "It just didn’t qualify under Joe’s definition."

Hitachi’s F Series, however, still will not qualify as an AFA for International Data Corp. IDC requires an AFA to use a storage controller designed strictly for flash, as opposed to employing the same one that is also used for hybrid flash arrays (HFAs) with HDDs, according to Eric Burgener, a research director for IDC’s storage practice.

"The difference between all-flash HFAs and true AFAs is performance – in particular, consistent latency as a system is scaled to its maximum throughput, especially when data services like snapshots/clones are in use," Burgener said.

Next Steps

Hitachi takes on software-defined storage

Overview: Hitachi Unified Storage VM

Hitachi optimizes HUS VMs for all-flash

Dig Deeper on SSD array implementations

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Why should the Hitachi VSP F Series be classified as a true all-flash array?
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