Pillar Data, a new storage company, has burst onto the world's stage with what looks like a terrific product. It combines fibre channel and SCSI access to a wondrously scalable and virtualised drive array back end, with an easy-to-use and intuitive user interface.

Oh, did I forget something? Yes, it adds in four tiers of storage with different service levels magically implemented on just one disk hardware tier which is Serial ATA. And it reckons it can make the fastest service level perform like a bunch of Fibre Channel drives. So we have Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) and enterprise-class performance.

Anything else? NAS perhaps? Yes, Pillar can do that too. So let's get this straight. Pillar is offering a unified Fibre Channel/iSCSI SAN with ILM, NAS interface, enterprise-class performance, a single management facility and SATA drive-based costs?

Anything else? Well, yes, I'm afraid there is. You buy a Pillar system and there is one software license. Extend the Pillar system with more data-moving controllers - Slammers in Pillar's jargon - and you don't have to buy more software licenses. The nice people at PIllar explained that this is something you can't do with Net App.

NetApp has nice boxes they say, terrific hardware, but the licensing policy sucks.

Pillar's system can scale to something like 48 terabytes but there doesn't appear to be a practical upper limit. It wil probably scale even further but Pillar's engineers ran out of time and kit. It has recorded good SPC performance benchmarks too.

The four tiers of service come from separating each drive platter's surface into four concentric areas from the outermost tracks to the innermost ones. Disk heads have to move least for accessing the outer tracks and that's where you get the highest class of service.

They have to move most for the inner tracks and that's where you get the slowest service. Use this for archive data and the outer tracks for transaction-based applications. Data is striped across concentric tracks on a set of drives and you can set up storage amounts of an arbitrary size with a defined Quality of Service (QoS).

The QoS is implemented by prioritising requests to access the different areas of the disk. This ensures that requests to the fast response area get more access time than requests to access slower response areas. Satisfy fifty transactions then write a few blocks to your archive, that sort of thing.

The drives are stored in enclosures called Bricks. These are connected by a switched 2Gbit/s Fibre Channel fabric to data moving controllers called Slammers. These have a serious amount of compute power inside them with multiple Xeon processors, bags of memory and so forth. There is load balancing and protection against Slammer failure, as you would expect in an enterprise-class system. The Bricks have redundancy features too.

Out of the data path, stuck out to the side is the box and software that does the virtualisation and management. Administrators use this to 'fly' the system, and it's called the Pilot. It has a lot of compute power too but not as much as the Slammers. The Pilot creates the virtualisation map and maintains it.

Not the oddest aspect of Pillar is that it is a startup, and funded by just one venture capital company, one owned by Oracle boss Larry Ellison. Yes, Oracle's go-getting, Bill-hating, serial company-acquiring CEO is bankrolling Pillar. He's betting around a hundred million dollars on the company.

Pillar founder and CEO Mike Workman had better deliver or he could become a member of the Oracle executive discard club. He'd be in impressive company. Being sacked by Larry from an executive VP position means you have been pushy enough and good enough to threaten his job. Mike Workman is sharply confident and the kit, the hardware and software, look impressive.

Pillar, emulating Oracle in a way, seems intent on upsetting what it might characterise as the cosy storage applecart with its separate silos for FC SAN, iSCSI SAN and NAS.

For the moment it is delivering what looks like a great FC/iSCSI/NAS/ILM combo product. It can connect in to existing Fibre Channel SANs but there is little prospect of seamless interoperability. Think 3PAR, but with iSCSI and NAS now. Think NetApp but with, as Pillar's people explain, simpler, more elegant and better-performing technology.

There is bound to be a product development roadmap but Pillar's first intent is to get itself established. Give Pillar a look. Oracle's boss didn't get where he is by being foolish or credulous. Mike Workman has founded a company and developed a product and brought it to market under Ellison's fiery breath. That alone probably means it's worthy of a look.

Check Pillar out. Ellison's storage company enigma could be good news.