How Hitachi’s Hu Yoshida Got the Last Word, blog post by John Webster

By , Wednesday, September 29th 2010

Categories: Analyst Blogs

Tags: Brocade, Cisco, FAIS, HDS, Hitachi, storage virtualization, USP, Victoria, VSP,

If you’re an Hitachi Data Systems storage customer, you by now know that HDS announcedits latest virtualized storage platform codemnamed Victoria, also known as the Virtualized Storage Platform or VSP. And if you were an HDS customer at the announcement event held Monday at the Santa Clara, Calif., Hyatt, then you would also have seen Hitachi’s VP and CTO Hu Yoshidabring closure to a debate that once raged over where a storage virtualization engine should live.

As storage-networking technology was maturing in the early 2000s, storage and networking vendors started testing the market for customer receptiveness to virtualized storage. STK had a virtualized array codenamed Iceberg that was doing well but could only be attached to IBM mainframes. Meanwhile, a virtual unknown named Storage Computer, now defunct, was getting a tiny bit of traction with a virtualized array for open systems, mostly in Japan. Xiotech, with a similar technology, was doing much better, but still just breaking the surface of this opportunity.

At that point, storage networking vendors Brocade, McData, and Cisco Andiamo proposed embedding a virtualization engine in a fibre channel SAN switch. Rather than waiting for an I/O to hit the array controller, these and a handful of smaller vendors proposed to virtualize storage by splitting the I/O path into separate data and control streams at the SAN switch. A start-up named Rhapsody had developed a split path virtualization engine that was acquired by Brocade and introduced to INCITS as the basis for a network-based, storage-virtualization standard known as the Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS). All the major SAN switch vendors signed-on.

They were countered by another group of vendors that included HDS and IBM. HDS brought forth the first version of their Universal Storage Platform (USP) that featured a virtualized controller and could support both HDS and other vendor’s arrays (read EMC Symmetrix here) on the back end. IBM also introduced the SAN Volume Controller (SVC) that was built around IBM’s first open systems storage virtualization engine.

And so a debate erupted. Which was better? While the switch vendors said FAIS (pronounced “face”) was the more elegant solution, Hu Yoshia argued tirelessly that the switch vendors would never get these “packet cracking” split path machines to work without adding significant latency to the I/O chain. A virtualized controller was the only way to go. Indeed, the switch vendors responded with a different kind of latency. Their solutions were slow reaching the market and when they finally did, users showed little interest. Not even the storage marketing powerhouse EMC could get a virtualized SAN switch named Invista up to critical mass. The Invista switch has been effectively shelved and replaced with a software version while EMC now says the “V” word more forcefully by saying VMAX and VPlex.

So here on the announcement stage this week was Hu Yoshida, once again extolling the virtues of controller-based virtualization while debuting the latest release in a series of these platforms from Hitachi. The VSP features an improved crossbar switch design, faster processors, and scales in three dimensions–up, out, and deep.

Hu is a highly regarded technologist within the storage industry. He calls them as he sees them and is quite often right. So it was more than ironic that, after the HDS executives put on their VSP show, complete with a thundering Japanese drum ensamble providing the drum roll, a few supporting vendor partners took the stage to heartily congratulate HDS (and Hu) on a job very well done. This group included all of the major SAN switch vendors who backed FAIS. First up was Brocade’s Sales SVP, Ian Whiting. Cisco’s SVP of Global and Transformational Partnerships, Wendy Bahr came shortly there after. McData could well have added a pat on the back, too, but they’ve been bought by Brocade so I guess McData was there in spirit.

And now it’s my turn. Hu, you stuck to your virtulalized controller guns and you’re argument prevailed. The virtualized storage controller you championed has prevailed. Congratulations.

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