Pillar Data Posts SPEC Numbers

Posted on July 6, 2006

Pillar Data finally joins the industry in posting SPEC numbers for their Axiom product. You’ll recall that the Axiom solution consists of a Pilot (management node), up to 4 Slammers (controllers), and up to 32 Bricks (disk shelves). The “2.0 Release” is said to incrase the number of bricks from 32 to 64 but has yet to appear.

The SPEC configuration consists of 2 Slammers (Quad 2.4Ghz Xeon, 16GB of RAM), 32 Bricks (384 disks total, 12 per Brick) using, and get this, Hitachi SATA 160GB 7200RPM drives!

The result? A fairly dismal performance given the competition. Here’s a quick rundown of the field:

Company Solution CPUs Result
Pillar Data Axiom 500 8 54431
NetApp FAS6030A 4 100295
BlueArc Titan 2200 1 98131
BlueArc Titan 2200, 2-Node 2 195502
ExaStore EX200FC 8 119763
EMC Celerra NSX Cluster 4 X-Blade 60 (DMX) 6 (2 per blade) 137310

is Pillar a player? Yes. But they certainly aren’t at the top of their game. The fact that they are pulling the numbers they do on 7,200RPM SATA disks is impressive, but I would think they’d pull out all the stops for a SPEC debut. When you dig back into the SPEC archives you’ll see that NetApp’s FAS3050c posted a 47927 back in Q2 of 2005, so if Pillar is looking to compete against last generation NetApp gear, congrats.

Any storage enthusiast knows that the real interesting thing about SPEC isn’t the numbers… its the notes on the benchmark results. And those notes reveal some interesting things about Pillar that I was unaware of, namely:

“Each Brick has 2 RAID-5 Controllers each with 6 active disks. Each Brick has 1 hot spare disk not used during the benchmark.”

This I find interesting. So these aren’t simple JBOD’s connected via FC back to the controller where the work is done. That might explain the higher than expected perfomrance from slow SATA drives, their distributing the load and easing the burden on the “Slammers”.

And the fact still remains, Pillar is a great marketing company, their ads look great, and I love their websites look, but while they aren’t the dogs of the storage industry, they certainly aren’t keeping pace with the big dogs. They have repeatedly stated that they are setting sites on taking business from NetApp, and perhaps they will be content to do just that, but I think NetApp has a few more tricks up their sleeve, and as a NetApp customer I’ll tell you that I’d never consider a Pillar solution.

In the industry right now I’m watching 4 players…

  1. BlueArc: The performance leader, hands down. A young, excited, and cutting edge company.
  2. 3Par: Utility storage and the ability to scale big. A long ways to go, and very pricey, but they’ve got the space/capacity issue solved.
  3. NetApp: I think they may be the Comeback Kid. Still the single most versital solution, the performance issues are being worked on and is worth waiting for.
  4. Compellant: The Dark Horse, if you will. A very, um, compelling offering from a new player that pushes forward and is extremely exciting.

There’s my “What to watch” list. Pillar ain’t on it. Perhaps when their “2.0 Release” arrives we’ll have more to talk about, but for now I’m not sold. They claim excellent performance for Oracle and partnerships… but then, Larry is a Pillar backer, so, like, act shocked by that one. They are growing their customer base, including a press release for each new one, now up to 103, but the word on the street is that Pillar has been slashing its margins to ribbons in order to aquire customers and taking a “whatever-it-takes” approach. That’ll win you customers and friends, but might run you outta money.
We’ll see what is in store for these guy down the road.