Larry Ellison's storage fledgling is learning to fly. The Axiom product is selling, with 75 sales so far, and repeat orders coming in from customers - four or five in one case apparently. Sales and marketing staff have been recruited. A European office is opening in Drogheda, Ireland. This office will provide all the infrastructure and support for sales offices across the region, initially in the UK, France and Germany.

Here in the UK customer sales have been made also.

So round one, so to speak, is looking good. What happens next?

Software
As we know Pillar stores data on different track groups on a set of disks. These track groups are nearer or farther from the read/write heads and thus provide faster or slower service, enabling different tiers of storage in the information lifecycle (ILM) sense, from within a single array. Data can be readily moved between track groups by sysadms.

What is likely to come in the next release of Pillar's software, currently 3 million lines of code, is the ability to have data moved automatically based on customer-set policies.

Another likely functional addition is continuous data protection (CDP) with file changes to CDP-protected files time-stamped to a journal file.

Hardware
A smaller Axiom product is also likely; one suited to branch offices, for the mid-market (hence the pillar boxes and pill boxes allusion). Asked why branch offices would buy a storage device like an Axiom when wide area file systems (WAFS) technology is all about removing storage arrays from them, the Pillar view is that WAFS is unlikely to be taken up wholesale.

IT departments and IT infrastructures are cautious and conservative in operation and style. There is so much change involved in a move to WAFS-type operation that it won't have general appeal. It's more likely that customers will think more about adding or upgrading storage facilities in branch offices so that the local users are better served and the data better protected. With branch office Axioms sending CDP data back to a head office Axiom then they get that better data protection.

The mid-market may take up a smaller Axiom because of its ability to present data in either SAN or NAS style, its scalability and the ILM capability.

A second hardware development could be/will be the powering down of idle drives. This would save energy but wouldn't be a MAID implementation, such as Copan and Nexsan offer. The disks wouldn't be packed that closely together and, unlike MAID, all the disks could be active concurrently without the array melting.

Also the suggestion was offered that Copan's MAID implementation renders the disks good for sequential access but less good for random I/O. There's a possible customer use of an Axiom array in front of a Copan MAID array. The two products would be complementary.

Thirdly, Fibre Channel disks may be joining the present SATA drives. Pillar says it gets Fibre Channel disk-like performance from its SATA drives for the first tier of storage because of its track usage pattern .

Which all means what exactly?
Pillar Data is executing on its plan. It hasn't stumbled since its launch and is well-funded. There are, it says, no worries about its financial stability as there might be about other venture capital-backed start-ups. The talk at a senior marketing level is about Pillar providing an alternative to EMC and NetApp. That's the level of competition they are seeing, not competition with other, roughly similar-sized, vendors such as 3Par.

It's too early to say whether Larry Ellison will see a return on his $100 million in Pillar Data. A sign that he might be likely to see one might be other vendors 'bad-mouthing' Pillar's technology or some other aspect of the company. Until then Pillar is enjoying a honeymoon with the market. Early customers have come back for more and the product's appeals is being strengthened from both a software and a hardware point of view. We can certainly look forward to sales at the 100-unit level very quickly.

Sales at the 1,000-unit level? That number is not out of sight, not in my view. Keep an eye on Pillar. Just when you think posted letters and pillar boxes may be going out of fashion, you might find that Pillar boxes do have a use after all.