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Exclusive Interview With Hiroaki Mizumachi, CTO, NEC Hydrastor

1,200 users, 2,000 installations, 3EB stored, 70% of revenue from Japan
By Philippe Nicolas on 2017.03.28

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Who is Hiroaki Mizumachi?

He is:

He was:

  • VP, NEC Corp.

StorageNewsletter: NEC is a global IT vendor, could you summarize the genesis and background of your storage portfolio?
Hiroaki Mizumachi: NEC started computer system HW and SW manufacturing since 1960s, and had homegrown storage systems like disk drives, tape drives, optical discs and robotic libraries. But they were for NEC's proprietary mainframe systems at the moment. NEC turned its accumulated experiences and technologies into open systems in late 1990s and developed variety of storage lineups, disk arrays, NAS devices, LTO drives and libraries, optical drives and storage appliances, although it's not so known in the market yet.

Some figures about NEC as a group?
NEC was founded in 1899 and started phone equipments and related facilities manufacturing. It expanded its business area to public infrastructures, communication equipments, satellites, computers, security systems and others over more than 100 years of its history.

NEC and its subsidiaries have 100,000 employees worldwide, footprint in over 160 countries and 9 global research labs with more than $3 billion annual revenue.

About HYDRAstor, could you share the story of the product? Who are the people behind the produtc?
HYDRAstor technology was invented initially at NEC Research Lab in the US, Princeton NJ, by two talented researchers and introduced to business unit in Japan in 2002. It initially targeted for robust storage by using erasure codes and grid architecture. It pursued perfect distribution and came up with building completely content addressable storage structure which gave block level deduplication almost for free. And we, as a business unit, decided to focus on backup and archive area after careful market research, and shipped first unit in September 2007. All the components in the product are home grown except Linux OS and development team is distributed in Japan, India and Europe.

What are the challenges to solve?
Complexity and difficulty in enterprises' backup environment, where many independent target devices are deployed which causes management nightmare as data amount to be protected increases exponentially. And there's no single product really scale in terms of capacity and performance yet having global deduplication with short enough housekeeping works which usually makes significant performance drop.

What's company vision for HYDRAstor?
It's recognized as one of the real leading edge products appealing worldwide. And expected to be business driver of overseas market. So, NEC will keep enhancing the product.

What are the target market segments?
I would say all segment. But most sold verticals are finance, manufacturer, retail, public (government, local government), medical and media. Big configuration tends to be in financial or media segment.

Is HYDRAstor just a backup and archive appliance or more than that?
It started from backup and archive and they are the area that the product is quite strong. Now it's enhanced to object storage area and tiered storage area so that it became a kind of unified secondary storage platform. In the future, we may consider hosting some applications like indexing, analyzing etc., which can enhance HYDRAstor's capability by utilizing computing power in the grid.

Do you consider HYDRAstor a SDS offering? What's your definition of SDS?
Yes, it's mostly built by software and we now have a real software only offering with virtual appliance. Our definition of SDS is a storage running on commodity platform with rich features given by software.

When we read HYDRAstor features list, it’s pretty impressive. Could you elaborate on technologies you have developed and implemented?
Base architecture is built around erasure codes, associated distributed processing, fully contents addressable file system and complete balancing from various aspects.

Erasure codes gives quite flexible block level data protection from parity level 1 to 6 with relatively small capacity overhead. Erasure coded blocks are distributed almost evenly to all nodes in the grid and all disks in all nodes, so that even single file write and read utilizes all nodes and all disks' performance for high stream performance which could be said as ultimate striping. This is one of the reasons of complete linear scalability of performance and capacity utilization. Also, deduplication dictionary is distributed and processed on all nodes so that duplicate elimination speed increases linearly with number of nodes which probably no other deduplication storage can achieve. In terms of balancing, management software keeps monitoring capacity, performance and resiliency of the system and try optimizing them whenever a failure or configuration change happens. Housekeeping activity is also special point of HYDRAstor. In usual storage appliances, housekeeping tasks like space reclamation takes longer duration as system capacity increases and eventually makes system almost unusable, but in case of HYDRAstor all housekeeping tasks are also processed in distributed manner so that task duration doesn't increase with system size expansion.

HYDRAstor also has source side deduplication which gives high write throughput for duplicative data. Similar feature is equipped in other deduplication storage, but with specific applications. HYDRAstor's Universal Express I/O Deduped transfer feature made it application agnostic which other storage don't have.

Effortless data migration from old HW to new HW is also a special advantage of HYDRAstor. It allows multiple generations of HW collocate in a single grid system. This allows system gradually move from old HW system to new HW system gradually, by keep adding new HW to the grid and retiring old HW one by one. During the moving period, all data movement is done in the system automatically with keeping all balancing (resiliency, performance and capacity) with almost non-disruptive manner and with not impacting production system performance.

Besides all above, HYDRAstor equips all regular features which most of other deduplication appliances have.

What are the advantages of your data protection platform?
WW number one high performance with general applications, true scalability of performance and capacity, high resiliency, easy management and effortless migration.

What are the interfaces of HYDRAstor?
General NAS type interfaces (NFS, CIFS), NetBackup Open Storage, Universal Express I/O and REST I/F (Amazon S3 compatible and Open Stack Swift compatible).

We read that NEC introduced recently a Virtual Appliance flavor, any details on that?
It runs on Windows Hyper-V environment and VMware ESXi environment. Feature wise it has exactly same functionality with physical appliance except erasure codes protection and few unnecessary functions but just smaller, 1TB to 16TB. All optional features like replication, encryption, OST, Universal Express I/O and so on are free of charge. Replication between vrtual appliance and physical appliance is possible so that customers can have more flexible choices depend on their environment and operation.

Performance is enough high compare to other physical or virtual appliances in the same price range.

What about competition?
EMC Dell, HP, Quantum, Veritas are the ones we often compete in various deals in backup area. In archive area, EMC Dell Isilon and Huawei OceanStor are sometimes in the competition.

What is your link with open source?
Our OS base is Linux but almost all functionality are developed by ourselves.

What makes HYDRAstor different?
Very special grid architecture and sophisticated management of it resolving all scalability challenges other vendors are struggling on.

What is your business model?
In overseas, main focus is channel sales with small amount of special direct sales. In Japan majority is direct, but we try expanding it to channels.

How do you sell? Direct, channel, OEM? What are the partnerships you develop?
Direct and channel. Currently we don’t have OEM partner yet, but we are open.

Also we have lots of technical partnerships with backup software vendors, archive software vendors, VM software vendors and media processing equipment vendors.

How many customers do you have?
About 1,200 users. Most of HYDRAstor customers don't allow us to disclose their names.

Few customers agreed to be referenceable include:

  • Global Payments (USA)
  • Boxtone (USA)
  • Kurashiki Central Hospital (Japan)
  • Japan Pension Operating Service (Japan)
  • Osaka Gas Information System Research Institute (Japan)

How many installations and deployed systems? What is the total capacity HYDRAstor protect
Close to 2,000 installations. Total data size stored is about 3EBs.

How is the product priced and licensed?
Basically per node price. There are 2 types of nodes, hybrid node and storage node.

Hybrid node have a bit higher price than storage node. Also there are several optional software licenses, like replication, encryption at rest, OST, Universal Express I/O, deduped transfer and so on. All those licenses are per Hybrid node and not per capacity.

For small configurations, we have capped capacity licenses too.

Support licenses are separated and ones most of our customers purchase.

What about the international presence?
At this moment, 70% or so of revenue is coming from Japan market, but we are going to expand overseas business.

What are the priorities for 2017?
More focus on overseas market. We'll keep enhancing the product with newer generation of server technologies and disk/SSD technologies which make the product faster and denser. Also, cloud application area is an area we'll put some focus on for coming years.