Hitachi's storage launch undeterred by HP

Hitachi pushes its storage products higher and attempts to take the high ground on standards, despite uncertainty over its deal with HP

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) on Wednesday launched the Lightning 9900 V, an enterprise storage system with hooks for virtualisation. The company, which aims to be number one in storage by 2004, also promised additions to its Hi-Command storage management software, and announced a standards-promotion strategy called TrueNorth. "This is not just a hardware announcement," said Bob Plumridge, Hitachi's director of software product management in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. However, the software announced will not be available for six months. The Lightning 9900 V has a switched backplane like its predecessor, the 9900, but increases the speed from 6.4 gigabits per second (gbps) to 15gbps. "Other products are bus-based, and slower," said Plumridge. The new system can hold up to nine terabytes of data, but this will increase later this year, when HDS begins to offer 147GB drives alongside 73GB modules. The box is future-proofed, said Plumridge, because I/O to the box has been turned into a blade-based architecture. Users will be able to replace current Fibre Channel, Escon and Ficon connections with future protocols such as iSCSI and Infiniband when these reach the market, he said. "I'm very impressed with the product," said Dave Thompson, director of product sales at Sun Microsystems. "We expect our customers to respond positively." Sun has sold 400 of the existing 9900 systems worldwide since signing a reseller agreement with HDS in August 2001. He also stressed the importance of HDS' software announcement. "HDS is addressing a major cost factor. Most customers are really struggling." HDS' other major reseller, Hewlett-Packard, was not at the launch, although HDS officials assured the press that HP had already committed to badge the 9900V as a new member of its XP storage line. HDS software initiative will take longer to reach fruition, but it must succeed if the company is to make good on its bid to be number one in storage. The current incumbent, EMC, makes a large proportion of its revenue from software, while HDS has scarcely begun. "We cannot become number one in storage without software revenue," said Vincent Franceschini, senior director of future technologies at HDS. Currently, storage is growing rapidly, but the opportunity for management software is even greater. Gartner Group has reported that, for every dollar spent on storage, another five to seven is spent on managing it. To address this, HDS has renamed its Hi-Command management product Hi-Command Device Manager, to make room for an over-arching framework Hi-Command framework, which will include other components. The first of these, Copy Manager, Performance Manager and Storage Pool, will appear in about six months' time, in the fourth quarter of this year. Policy Controller, which will let the user set up business based rules for how a given piece of data is handled, will not appear for nearly a year. In all this, HDS has promised to obey standards, in particular the Common Information Model (CIM) and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), both of which have been endorsed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and which HDS believes will combine to make a "standards-based message bus". Fifty independent software vendors (ISVs) have promised to support TrueNorth, including the leading storage software vendor, Veritas. For a storage launch, HDS' event was short on promises of "virtualisation", the technology that promises to eventually let all of an enterprise's storage be seen as one large "virtual" disk. Though Compaq and HP have announced separate virtualisation products, and third parties such as Falconstor have produced software for virtualisation. "Today's products are point-in-time solutions," said Franceschini, explaining that they work with current products but are not future-proof -- which will strike many readers as a classic defence used by a company that is late to a market. The European launch, with the slogan "a clear vision for the future" took place in London's new Dali museum -- somewhat ironically, given Dali's stated aim: "What is important is to spread confusion, not to eliminate it."

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