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Hitachi storage unveils new A series all-flash array family

Hitachi Data Systems unveiled a new line of high-density, all-flash arrays featuring inline deduplication that are designed to close its solid-state portfolio gaps.

Hitachi Data Systems today expanded the Hitachi storage all-flash portfolio with a new family of high-density, deduplication-enabled arrays designed to close its portfolio gaps in the hottest data storage infrastructure market.

The new Hitachi Flash Storage (HFS) A series can pack up to 60 standard SSDs into a 3.5-inch-tall 2U chassis. The newly designed all-flash array uses off-the-shelf 1.6 TB multilevel cell (MLC) SSDs, rather than the 6 TB-plus custom-built flash module drives (FMDs) that HDS offers with its other all-flash options. 

HDS has sold flash-only configurations of its Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G series and Hitachi Unified Storage arrays, which were originally developed for hard disk drives. Last November, Hitachi storage added the VSP F series -- its first array sold with only its custom-built FMDs and no option for HDDs. Those arrays left some use cases uncovered, said Bob Madaio, a senior director of product marketing at HDS.

"We saw a need for an extremely dense solution. A lot of companies that we work with have small compute pods, and they want a dense flash array. We couldn't physically build something like that with the current structure of our FMDs," Madaio said.

The HFS A series adds block-based inline deduplication, a capability not available in other all-flash Hitachi storage options.

The HFS A series adds block-based inline deduplication, a capability not available in other all-flash Hitachi storage options. Deduplication can be especially important for customers using an all-flash array with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual server workloads.

"VDI is one of the major applications for all-flash arrays," said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research. "It was unlikely Hitachi could compete in the VDI market for all-flash arrays with the F series."

Hitachi storage all-flash options

The A series and Hitachi's other all-flash options all offer inline compression, which is generally more effective than deduplication for database workloads. But the FMD-based models feature onboard inline compression that cannot be turned off, whereas the SSD-based A series gives users the option to turn off the compression and deduplication to conserve the system's processing power if a workload will not benefit from it.

"Because the FMDs push all the [processing] work to the device, the storage controller isn't busy. So, there's really no net benefit to turning it off, because the compression happens fundamentally in real time in the [FMD]," Madaio said. "We wanted to have multiple types of solutions."

Additional Hitachi-designed software features in the new HFS A series include thin provisioning, snapshots, synchronous and asynchronous replication, and quality-of-service controls. HDS expects to add self-encrypting drives this year, according to Madaio.

Available models

The HFS A series is available in three 2U models. The HFS A220 can hold 10 SSDs for a raw capacity of 16 TB and an estimated effective capacity of 64 TB, with data reduction factored in. The HFS A250 has 30 SSDs for a raw capacity of 48 TB and an estimated effective capacity of 192 TB. The densest model, the HFS A270, can hold 60 SSDs for a raw capacity of 96 TB and an estimated effective capacity of 384 TB.

The hardware is identical with the A220 and A250, but the A270 adds memory to the controllers to manage the greater capacity of storage. Madaio said the systems mainly use Samsung MLC SSDs, but HDS plans to have multiple suppliers. HDS decided to use MLC SSDs, rather than the triple-level cell (TLC) 3D NAND drives that several other all-flash array vendors have pledged to ship.

"There has been a lot of press about people moving to things like 3D and TLC. But there isn't a heck of a lot of supply, so we're not really sure how much of that is real," Madaio said. "From a pricing perspective, we feel we'll be competitive with anyone in the market with this product."

Madaio estimated the starting street price for the HFS A220 to be approximately $125,000, including the hardware, software, installation and a basic services contract. He said the price per GB for the largest configuration would be under $1.50 based on effective capacity, with data reduction factored in.

"There is still a [enterprise user] segment that is looking for dedicated application deployment, doesn't need much scale in terms of capacity, but needs very dense performance in terms of IOPS and latencies," Eric Burgener, a research director for IDC's storage practice, wrote in an email. He said Hitachi storage "can't hit that price point effectively with systems based on the VSP."

Capabilities and use cases

The sweet spot for the A series will be VDI, virtual servers, online analytics and small to medium-sized databases, according to Madaio. "For many customers, HFS will be a tactical purchase used to address performance challenges on their HDD-based systems. For some, it can be a dedupe target virtualized behind a VSP," he said.

By contrast, Madaio expects VSP F series customers to "typically be thinking more strategically about flash than the HFS buyers." He said they would likely be looking for a more scalable flash array, with a greater level of automation and data availability. Many could use the F series in online transaction processing environments to take advantage of the FMD's penalty-free compression, he said.

The HFS A series uses a different operating system than other HDS arrays, but Madaio said Hitachi storage would explore areas of commonality with VSP, such as management and replication. For network connectivity, the HFS A series currently supports 8 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC), as well as 10 Gbps and 40 Gbps Ethernet. HDS expects to add support for 16 Gbps FC and InfiniBand later this year.

Another upcoming capability is scale-out support. Stammers said a scale-out architecture could become increasingly important, as all-flash arrays gain greater use for a broad range of applications as the price of flash drops.

"Scale-out is the way to go, because data is constantly growing," Stammers said. "Rather than having to put in another system, you can simply increase the capacity of your existing system. But maintain its performance, because every time you add a node, you add capacity and controllers."

Madaio foresees the top competition for the HFS A Series to be Pure Storage's all-flash arrays and smaller configurations of EMC's XtremIO. He also expects to run into Hewlett Packard Enterprise 3PAR, and possibly Kaminario and Violin Memory.

George Crump, founder and president of Storage Switzerland LLC, was less equivocal. "The No. 1 target, dead center, is Pure Storage. Almost every time I'm talking to a customer about all-flash arrays, Pure Storage is in the conversation," he said.

Next Steps

Hitachi takes on software-defined storage

Hitachi storage strategy focuses on IoT

Overview of Hitachi Unified Storage SAN

CTO Hu Yoshida, of Hitachi Storage, forecasts HDD HDD fade-out.

Dig Deeper on SSD array implementations

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