Pillar Hopes to Stand Out in Storage Hardware

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Trying to break into a commodity market dominated by big-name vendors like EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and IBM, storage hardware start-up Pillar Data Systems has its work cut out for it.

But at least the San Jose, Calif., newcomer has deep pockets.

Backed by $150 million from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s venture firm Tako Ventures, Pillar Data Systems launched a system this week that offers storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) utilities in one machine.

The idea of offering a device with the ability to handle SAN and NAS schemes is nothing new. Storage vendors such as EMC and Network Appliance have been putting together machines that don’t discriminate against SAN or NAS transmissions. This flexibility makes them attractive to businesses that need to handle several storage formats.

The trick with Pillar’s Axiom 500 server is that it uses a “peered NAS and SAN architecture.”

While NetApp and EMC tack NAS gateways onto a SAN, or add a software layer as a NAS system to imitate a SAN, Pillar pools both NAS and SAN in one repository, said Pillar CEO Mike Workman. He claimed this costs about half as much as competing machines without sacrificing capacity or performance levels.

Axiom systems also offers customers more choice than they normally would have. Customers can run a less expensive NAS-only system, a SAN-only system, or run a blend of both depending on their storage requirements, said Workman, a former IBM storage executive tapped by Ellison to lead the company into a crowded market.

“Everyone says their products are flexible. But if they’re so flexible, why do they offer five, 10, 11 different storage hardware platforms with different sets of software that go on those, in many cases, to solve storage problems?” Workman asked.

“Our platform severely differentiates itself from other people, because if you want to buy archived storage from us you can buy the Axiom 500,” Workman said. “But if you decide you want to CIFS home directories on it with more performance than you’d get out of an archive system, you can do that on that same platform.”

A singular hardware system for all that appears pretty attractive. But it’s a hollow skull without some brains to run in it. The intelligent data software is the true engine in the Axiom box. Workman said Axiom storage management software enables system resources to deliver data from a single pool according to performance policies.

This means that applications that require high performance, such as database software, are stored in a narrow band near the outer diameter of the disk drive platters. That is where the data rate is the highest. Lower priority data is stored on inner tracks where data rates are lower.

Workman said that while some systems allow users to place data on the disk where they choose, the utility is useless unless it has priority queuing and cache management like Axiom.

Customers have found that it costs less to purchase and deploy a Pillar Axiom system than it does to maintain some of their current systems. Pillar allows customers to scale capacity and performance without incurring additional software license fees, providing unparalleled appeal in the enterprise storage marketplace, Workman said.

“Configuration and management of our existing SAN has been unnecessarily burdensome,” said Christopher Hill, associate director of Information Systems at law firm Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP, which tested an Axiom system and realized cost savings immediately.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong when a $400,000 storage system requires an additional $100,000 for professional services just to install the system,” Hill said.

Hill said a comparable Axiom SAN system cost the firm around $100,000, with a simple management interface.

Pillar Axiom is now shipping with full NAS capability, with SAN capability beta testing wrapping up and expected to be ready in July. Each system scales from 3 terabytes to more than 300 terabytes.

Pillar launched with roughly 325 employees. In addition to Workman, Pillar is loaded with ex-IBM talent, including COO Nancy Holleran and Mike Brewer, chief architect and vice president of engineering.

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com

Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor and a senior writer for CIO.com covering IT leadership, the CIO role, and digital transformation.

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