NEC Readies New Storage Architecture - InformationWeek

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NEC Readies New Storage Architecture

Hydrastor's DynamicStor software makes it possible to build a cluster of standard x86 servers that are presented as one large storage pool.

NEC plans to release in six months a grid-based storage architecture that promises to scale more efficiently than traditional systems, dramatically reduce data redundancy, and provide continuous availability to business applications even after hardware failures.

At least one analyst firm says NEC's Hydrastor platform is a next-generation storage architecture that "raises the bar" for other vendors. The Japanese conglomerate is currently beta testing the new system and plans to release it for use in backing up and archiving data in about six months, an NEC official said Monday.

Hydrastor's DynamicStor software makes it possible to build a cluster of standard x86 servers, which NEC calls nodes, that are presented as one large storage pool. "The grid looks and presents itself as a single system," says Karen Dutch, general manager for advanced storage products at NEC. In developing DynamicStor, NEC has taken out nine patents related to the technology. The application is deployed on every server, handling communications and providing all the system's services.

NEC outlined three areas that it claims are key differentiators with current RAID systems. First is system management.

The new architecture enables administrators to add or retire servers without any impact on business applications. In cases of removing old servers, DynamicStor will immediately send new data to replacement machines and can be set to start migrating data from the old computers in the background. "The system powers out the old nodes when done, and they can be pulled off the grid," Dutch says. RAID systems require that applications be taken down during data migrations.

Another key differentiator is the elimination of redundant data created in today's data centers. An example would be an e-mail attachment of a PowerPoint presentation. If the sender changes one slide and resends the file to other people within an organization, then the storage system would save the original and the new attachment. DynamicStor, however, is smart enough to know what's been changed, so keeps only new data, Dutch says. This feature makes more efficient use of storage, which reduces the cost of having to add more capacity. "It's a storage conservation system, instead of a storage consumption system," she says.

The third key enhancement is in data resiliency, which is the ability for data to survive hardware failures. Today's RAID systems use 20% of storage capacity to protect data against one disk failure. DynamicStor uses 25% of storage capacity, but can protect data against the failure of three servers, thereby offering a better safety margin during hardware failure, Dutch says.

Michael Thomas, storage architect for the Federal Reserve System, says NEC's grid storage is a major improvement over RAID systems in terms of resiliency because it can continue operating while failed hardware is replaced and data recovered. "I'm not going to notice that I've lost a disk," Thomas says. "My performance is not going to suffer, because I'm in a rebuild situation."

The Federal Reserve System did not have the resources to participate in the beta test of Hydrastor, but was on the customer advisory committee, Thomas says.

Robert Gray, analyst for IDC, believes Hydrastor "raises the bar" for other storage vendors and is an example of the direction the market is heading. While some of the services offered by NEC can be bolted on to RAID systems through third-party software, having everything in one makes for a more flexible, efficient system. "NEC is the first to take all of these things and combine them," Gray says. "I would argue it's a breakthrough."

Some customers are testing Hydrastor as a backup or archival system. The new product is set to be available for those purposes in six months, Dutch says. Next year, Hydrastor is scheduled to ship for primary storage as well. Primary storage relates to data that is in active use from business applications, such as ERP and CRM systems.

In 2009, NEC plans to offer technology that would make it possible to distribute nodes in different regions to protect against disasters that could destroy a data center. Like other storage systems, Hydrastor will initially be available for use in one facility, as opposed to being able to distribute servers over a wide area network.

While pricing has not been released, Dutch estimates the price of the new system to be less than $1 per gigabyte of storage.

NEC's product announcement came in the middle of troubled times for the company. This month, the company said accounting troubles could result in it being delisted from the U.S. Nasdaq market. While the delisting would affect less than 1% of its market capitalization, listing in the United States increases the company's profile overseas.

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