3PAR,a US startup, claimed to have devised a new drive array architecture which offers, "Symmetrix-levels of performance and functionality at an average systems value 15 per cent less than an HP EVA," according to Sebastian Darrington, head of technical strategy for Source Consulting.

It has been developed as a means of offering utility-style storage with very little pre-allocation of disk space to applications, a so-called Thin Provisioning technology.

The InServ Storage Server leads the SPC 1 benchmark stakes with 47,000 IOPS, followed by a Fujitsu Eternus array with 33,500 IOPS and then an HP EVA with 20,000 IOPS. EMC and HDS benchmarks are not available. Darrington said that not all vendors submitted their arrays to test in this way. 3PAR is now expanding into the UK via distribution agreements with CSF and Source Consulting.

Jason Rabbetts, group managing director of Source Consulting, said, "3PAR's Thin Provisioning technology is utterly in harmony with what our corporate clients are demanding. The quality of the product is exceptional and the proposition stunningly disruptive." The thin provisioning idea is a restatement of virtualisation with physical storage being allocated as needed when applications write to their logical volume. Volumes are assigned from a logical pool, which is the aggregation of all the drives in the array. 3PAR claimed that users only needed 'a small buffer of physical capacity' which is replenished as needed.

David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, suggested that, "We are perhaps the only storage vendor interested in selling our customers less disk drives." Claimed savings from this so-called Utility Storage approach are significant.

3PAR says that its storage controllers, of which you can have up to eight linked via a mesh backplane, separate control commands from data moving instructions and thus offer more scalability. Darrington said that a single storage server can have up to 1,026 Fibre Channel-attached 144GB (Hitachi) drives, which totals 147.7TB of storage in one rack.

Software capabilities include clustering and volume management in each system controller's O/S, virtualisation at the physical and logical disk level and the virtual volume level, plus snapshot copies. Planned enhancements include remote disaster replication. Host servers connect via Fibre Channel in the traditional SAN way. Darrington said that, "In the future iSCSI will be added."

These storage servers are said to be able to mix different workloads such as OLTP and file serving and, in effect, the InServ device is a proprietary SAN in a rack. It's not inexpensive; Darrington said, "A 1TB entry-level system with two storage controllers will cost in the region of £70,000." It is positioned as a drive array for organisations with an enterprise approach to storage and a desire to spend storage money carefully with an eye to performance and scalability.

Craig Nunes, 3PAR senior director of product marketing, suggested that 3PAR is comparable to Network Appliance; "What NetApp did for the NAS world we have done that with Inserv on the SAN side. It's extremely simple to serve blocks to your server farm." 3PAR has produced a proprietary, fast and scalable product using proprietaryr software and ASICs and priced underneath the high end SAN array market leaders. Nunes hopes for the first UK customer to be announced this quarter.