Pillar Pushes Provisioning, Capacity

Larry Ellison's slow-burning storage startup discusses roadmap and customer uptake

June 16, 2007

4 Min Read
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Pillar Data, the brainchild of Oracle supremo Larry Ellison, will unveil a capacity hike for its storage systems next week, and is planning to add thin provisioning to its product line later this year. (See Pillar Leaves Post At Last.)

The startup, backed by $250 million of Ellison's cash, visited Byte and Switch towers this week to add some flesh to the bones of its product roadmap. (See What To Do With $100M?, Pillar CEO Talks Roadmap, and Pillar Aims for Knockouts.)

After four years in stealth mode, Pillar finally launched its midrange storage systems back in 2005, although it struggled to meet expectations in its first year of shipping, racking up 87 customers. Mike Workman, Pillar's CEO, told Byte and Switch that this figure has now more than doubled. (See RedEnvelope Picks Pillar for Storage, Pillar Used in Oxford HPC, Cubist Adopts Pillar, and Pillar Picked in Florida.) "We have about 400 systems installed worldwide at a little over 200 customers," he said, adding that typical deployments are in areas such as data warehousing and storing video and music files.

Faced with stiff competition from the likes of EMC and IBM, the startup has been slowly bolstering its product line with support for Fibre Channel drives and iSCSI over recent months, and is now eying a capacity upgrade. (See Pillar Data Expands Support, Pillar Extends Reach, and Pillar Makes Software Axiomatic.)

On Monday, Pillar will add 750-Gbyte SATA drives from Seagate to its Axiom Systems, which up until now have used 500-Gbyte Hitachi SATA drives. "We have increased the our overall capacity within a single system by 50 percent," said Workman.The addition of the higher capacity drives, which are available now, pushes the overall size of Pillar's Axiom system up from 384 to 576-Tbytes, according to the vendor. But the added capacity comes at a cost. The list price for one of Pillar's "bricks" –- a disk enclosure filled with a dozen 750-Gbyte drives -- is $30,000, compared to $26,500 for a brick built from the lower capacity drives.

Recent months have seen a flurry of marketing activity from the startup, most notably when the firm introduced a Pillar-centric equation for calculating the "greenness" of storage gear, which was met with skepticism in some corners of the market. (See Pillar's Power Pitch, Time to Turn Green, and And the Winner Is....)

Like several other vendors, Pillar is also planning to jump on the thin provisioning bandwagon. (See The Skinny on Thin Provisioning, EqualLogic to Add Thin Provisioning, and Thin Is Definitely In.) The technique aims to ensure that physical disk capacity is only used as it is needed. (See 3PAR Debuts 'Thin Provisioning' and A Data Reduction Dossier.)

Brenda Zawatski, Pillar's senior vice president for sales and marketing, explained that thin provisioning will play a role in a large "software and hardware release" coming out in September. "You will see more functionality [and] you will see our thin provisioning come out around that time."

The startup is also banging its environmental drum again, with Zawatski promising more "green" offerings tied to the September announcements. The exec also hinted at the possibility of partnerships with energy providers, à la MAID vendor Copan, which recently offered a financial incentive scheme for customers in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric. (See Copan Pushes Power Savings.) "We’re in discussions with some power companies about alternatives and things that we can do together," she said, without naming names.Much of the attention lavished on Pillar in recent years has focused on the vendor's push toward profitability, thanks largely to the resources pumped into the firm by Ellison. In April 2006, Workman told Byte and Switch that Pillar was at least a year from break even, and the CEO was even less forthcoming on the issue of profitability this week. "We don’t disclose our P&L," he said, but added that Pillar's workforce has grown from 450 last year to around 550.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Copan Systems Inc.

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)

  • Pillar Data Systems Inc.

  • Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX)

  • Taneja Group

  • 3PAR Inc.

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