Hitachi Data Systems, at an event billed as its largest global announcement of the year, eschewed virtualisation and ATA or S-ATA disk arrays. Instead they plan to concentrate on lowering cost and simplifying management through automating processes and providing policy-driven management with existing technology.

HDS is providing archiving for email and other unstructured data through a partnership with Ixos. The data can be stored in WORM format on HDS. It agrees that expensive Lightning enterprise arrays are too expensive to hold this data, with its infrequent access pattern. Lower cost Thunder modular storage is better, however, that is still more expensive than competing ATA-based products.

Roger Turner, mid-range and NAS products director, EMEA at HDS, said that ATA-based arrays are not appropriate for "continuous 24 by 7 over five years operation as Fibre Channel and SCSI disks are." If you use them in that way, then disaster could result, and has happened. "I believe that we're seeing circumstances already where competitors are selling ATA-based solutions into customers that are using them inappropriately and seeing data loss." He cited StorageTek and a customer whose ATA-based BladeStore storage, used in a backup application, had seen disk and path failures. The BladeStore storage is being swapped out, at StorageTek expense, for Fibre Channel arrays.

Laurence James, disk marketing manager for StorageTek UK, said, “This was a very early BladeStore customer and it was sold for the wrong application, an OLTP database one. BladeStore is not designed for that. We have put specific pre-qualifications in place to prevent it occurring again. There have been no other instances of it happening. ”

HDS has a two-tier lifecycle platform currently; Lightning at the enterprise array level and Thunder at the modular array level. Asked if there will there be more tiersTony Reid, solutions marketing director, EMEA, at HDS, said: "Yes, there will. There needs to be a third, low-cost disk capability and it will be (in) the Thunder line. The question isn't technology. What we need to provide is a lower cost storage technology." He calls this "an archive modular" product, in contrast to the current mid-range modular Thunder product.

What will come is a lower-cost Thunder array for archiving unstructured data. Turner says, "We don't want to release any technology that, by inadvertent or accidental misuse, can cause a customer to lose data. Until we are confident that we can put a system into a customer that will not lose them data we will not release the technology."

HDS isn't announcing any virtualisation capabilities, either. Reid said, "We were criticised eighteen months ago for not announcing a virtualisation strategy. If we had done so at the time, it would have been the wrong thing to do." HDS thinks that activities using virtualisation, such as replication, are best done as close to the application as possible, as with Veritas and volume virtualisation, or as close to the disks as possible, as with an array controller. Reid allows that using virtualisation to serve a 2TB LUN to an application, but only allocating 2GB of physical storage, is a useful thing, but it needs complex code. There's a balance between complex code and hardware cost; "With the price of (drive) hardware dropping relatively quickly still, is providing the complexity in the code going to be too late? Storage will be cheap enough that you don't care whether it's going to be a 10TB disk. The (virtualisation) jury's still out."

HDS services has installed Datacore and Falconstor virtualisation products as part of customer projects. Turner says, "We understand that technology well but it is not the ultimate panacea. In the short term the reason people want to implement virtualisation is to lower the cost of ownership. If we can do that through automation with existing technology and without introducing an extra layer of complexity then we will."

HDS believes that 80 per cent of the spend on storage in five years time will be on software and is preparing itself for that shift, initially by partnering to provide better management of stored data. It is not rushing into either ATA arrays or virtualisation to either provide apparently cheaper storage, preferring to avoid unreliable drive technology on the one hand and code complexity on the other. This places it behind the leading curve of storage technology claimed by EMC, IBM, StorageTek and others. This will not matter, we suspect, to cautious, conservative businesses - ones, in fact, like HDS itself.