Hitachi ups stakes in storage race

Market leader EMC has another headache to worry about in its effort to stay top dog in the market for high-end storage devices: Hitachi Data Systems.

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3 min read
Market leader EMC has another headache to worry about in its effort to stay top dog in the market for high-end storage devices: Hitachi Data Systems.

EMC currently is the leader for these refrigerator-sized cabinets packed full of hard disks, costing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and able to connect to several servers. EMC recently beefed up its line with a new top-end product, the Symmetrix 8000.

But Hitachi Data Systems will announce tomorrow a new high-end product of its own, the Freedom Storage 9900, code-named "Lightning." The new product, combined with the "Shark" from IBM, the Hewlett-Packard alliance with Hitachi and Sun Microsystems' persistent storage push, puts more pressure on EMC.

Storage systems once were drab features of servers. But with the increasing bulk and value of corporate data combined with the demands of the Internet, storage systems now often are more expensive even than servers with dozens of processors. Server sellers Sun, Compaq, IBM, HP, Hitachi and others have grown jealous as EMC capitalized on that market.

Hitachi realizes toppling EMC won't be easy, but there's no shortage of ambition. "EMC has a bigger market share and a bigger mind share," said Hitachi Data Systems chief operating officer Dave Roberson.

But he said the Lightning product--combined with disk drives and other products from Hitachi Data Systems--can make the company the strongest storage provider in general in two to four years. "We think this product puts us at the lead of the storage industry for some time to come," Roberson said.

HP is helping in that effort. It will sell the 9900 device under its agreement with Hitachi, Roberson said.

The 9900 will supplement Hitachi's existing 7700E, the storage device that HP selected to sell under its own brand name instead of reselling EMC products. That deal has been lucrative for Hitachi, whose high-end storage system revenue increased 15 percent to 20 percent in the last fiscal year, Roberson said. "Most of the revenue growth came from HP last year," he said.

In addition to the HP deal, Hitachi just signed another sizable partnership: SGI will resell Hitachi's storage systems, Roberson said.

The new Hitachi 9900 system will cost between $600,000 in its barest configuration and more than $12 million when packed with its maximum of 37 terabytes (37,000 gigabytes) of hard disk capacity. A typical configuration for a large corporation, with about 3 terabytes of space, costs about $1.5 million.

But Hitachi, like EMC, is particularly fond of a new type of customer, those who place large amounts of storage in centralized data centers. "We're talking to customers who weren't even customers a couple of years ago who could end up buying a petabyte in 18 months," Roberson said. A petabyte--equal to a thousand terabytes or a million gigabytes--is about 100 million times the amount of storage in a typical desktop PC.

The 9900 has several improvements over the 7700E, said Hu Yoshida, vice president of data network solutions for Hitachi Data Systems. For one thing, it can connect to many more servers because of a change in the way the system transfers data internally.

The 7700E uses a bus, a shared data pathway between the ports that connect to servers and the disks themselves. The 9900 uses a switch system that provides numerous simultaneous connections, reducing the times when disks would have to be waiting for space to open up on the bus before being able to send data. In addition, the system can use more and faster hard disks.

Another improvement in the 9900 is the ability to take snapshots of its data without disturbing the system, a key feature to recover data from backups. Such an action was complex enough in the past that it could only be done a few times a day, but the 9900 will allow the operation every 15 minutes, Yoshida said.