Western Digital announces next-gen NVMe flash arrays, object storage and hybrid storage server systems

Western Digital is emphasizing its centrality to the data centre of the future, while simultaneously refreshing their data centre capabilities of the present with a refresh of their Data Center Systems.

SAN JOSE – Western Digital is engaged in an ambitious campaign to both deepen its presence in the enterprise data centre and to play a role in transforming that data centre to meet the architectural needs of Big Data and Fast Data. Longer term, they are developing special purpose processors which will replace GPU for certain types of Big Data and Fast Data workloads, within the context of the RISC-V Foundation and its open RISC-V instruction set architecture. For today, they are ramping up the capabilities of their data centre solutions portfolio, to allow customers to better address these Big Data and Fast Data issues. Western Digital has made announcements there on three fronts: an updated ActiveScale 5.3 object storage system; new product in the IntelliFlash N Series family of all-flash arrays; and a new hybrid storage server platform, the Ultrastar Serv60+8.

“I came to Western Digital because I saw this as the opportunity to build the next great storage systems business,” said Phil Bullinger, SVP and GM, Data Center Systems at Western Digital, who spent many years at EMC, notably running their Isilon scale-out NAS business. “We can do things that others cannot. We are still expanding our brand recognition and expanding the perception of the company to emphasize that it is no longer a legacy hard drive company.”

Bullinger is responsible for the platforms and systems that install in racks in regional and core data centres. He stressed that the design of the new products has been impacted by a new design philosophy that Western Digital is calling Symbiotics Design.

“This is how we prioritize our R&D,” he said. He also emphasized that while it sounds a lot like vertical integration, it’s much more than that  – with vertical innovation being a more accurate term.

“It’s a comprehensive concept,” Bullinger stated. “We are very vertically-oriented. We manufacture the NAND wafers in our own factories – also the components of the drives like the platters and the heads, so we can engineer them for higher levels of the stack. We have an intimate understanding of how every bit is performing. Symbiotics design is the interrelationship across the engineering teams, which lets them innovate, design, tune and optimize across multiple technology points. It allows us to create a ‘Data Forever’ architecture, where we can manage it over many generations.”

Bullinger sees this Western Digital data centre systems design as providing value through a myriad of capabilities.

“Our integrated design and test makes us unique,” he said. “We eliminate overlapping value chains, and tighten them up in our own systems. We also do full systems integration on tests micro-tailored to customer requirements. Our design, assembly and test services recognizes that in spite of the shift to ‘pay as you go,’ most of the market is still CAPEX. We are really well positioned to support these models because we are the manufacturer of record.”

The Data Center Systems portfolio is divided into three lines of business.

“Ultrastar is our flash and HDD platform and integration services,” Bullinger said. “ActiveScale is our object storage, which has some newer capabilities to it, including an integrated file capability pointed at large unstructured data sets, and which originally came from an acquisition by HGST. The third area is our IntelliFlash Unified Block and File storage, which came from our Tegile acquisition. We had a long relationship before that as a partner and an investor. This is a primary data mission-critical solution that checks all the boxes. This business is all about scale, and IntelliFlash scales the business.

Bullinger also emphasized that Western Digital is expanding its routes to take these products to market through a variety of channels and initiatives. Both ISV partners and VARs are critical to their go-to-market.

“We need partners to sell our products and an ISV system to support us,” he said. “We now have north of 60 ISVs certified and we continue to build this list.” They have over 300 enterprise IT-focused VARs in North America and EMEA, including WWT, Trace3, KeyCode, PCPC, and JTEK, and the channel is particularly important in the media and entertainment, HPC and government markets.

“We are accelerating our growth in China through a 2016 joint venture with Unis, a Chinese company that is as large as us,” Bullinger added. “Things are really starting to pick up for us there. We really think this is the way to build a business in China.”

The IntelliFlash announcement is an expanded N series, a Unified NVMe flash array which leverages NVMe technology for real-time transactional applications, machine learning, artificial intelligence and deep analytics. Four new models will be introduced, and ship later this year in Q4. They range from 19TB to 1.3PB of raw solid-state storage.

“The extension of this very rich, state of the art platform will extend it to deeper capacities,” Bullinger said. “We are also announcing enhancements to our IntelliFlash OS which allow more flexible data reduction. You can new choose dedupe and compression algorithms for specific data sets, and we have added the ability to make non-disruptive volume copies for DevTest environments.”

The Ultrastar innovations include several technology upgrades.

“Our IsoVibe vibration isolation technology has been significantly enhanced to improve the integrity of the drives,” Bulinger said. “Vibration is a big deal in these platforms and we have unbeatable technology in this space.” Precise cuts in the baseboard provide what amounts to suspension for the HDDs, to maintain performance across the platform, even when all the drives are working hard.

“ArcticFlow is our patented thermal zone cooling technology,” Bullinger indicated. “We are now able to deliver lower temperatures, which results in improved reliability and longevity, as well as energy savings.”

Serviceability has also been improved to maintain easier ‘cold aisle’ access.

“We need to have a very complete portfolio, because customers want different models for varied use cases, and we are introducing a Ultrastar model,” Bullinger stated. “The new one is the Serv60+8, a high capacity and performance optimized 4U hybrid storage server, with  60 slots for HDDs, including hybrid support for up to 24 of these, as well as up to 8 SSDs.” It has been designed for Western Digital’s entry into the SDS server market, in SDS archive, backup, media streaming, content repositories, and remote office and private-cloud environments. It has a 5 year warranty, and is now shipping.

Finally, the ActiveScale object storage platform has not only been enhanced with next-generation technology, in ActiveScale 5.3, but has also received a new marketing emphasis from Western Digital which it has never had before.

“ActiveScale has been popular through the years but it hasn’t had an identity from a logo or product name perspective,” Bullinger said. “It is something that has been ubiquitous, and which customers had in their rack, but sometimes didn’t even know was there. We are changing that, creating a logo and a clear identity, to give it rack presence.”

The P100 model is modular, and ranges from 864 TB to 5.4 PB of raw capacity. The X100 is integrated and scales up to 63 PB of raw capacity in a single namespace.

“It’s a very high performing system,” Bullinger said. The big technology enhancement is Unified Data Access, a NFS interface for ingest and management of data in traditional file system format and for improving storage usage in environments with mixed file and object use cases.

“This is a new feature,” Bullinger added. “It is not a gateway. What we have done with Unified Data Access is engineered a native ability to talk file protocol and object protocol to the same bit of data. Customers don’t have to pick and choose any more. It is built into the product.”

A new hybrid cloud workload capability has also been added, with built-in bucket-level replication from an on-premises ActiveScale system to an Amazon AWS. Full Docker container support has also been added.

“The Docker support allows the customer to introduce applications directly in the frame on the object storage platform for things like non-linear editing, so they can keep data in place and running applications on top of it,” Bullinger said. ActiveScale also gets 12 TB drives and FIPS drive support with this release.

ActiveScale 5.3 is available now.