A few weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to visit Hitachi (日立) in Japan as a guest of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).
During my time there I got to do a whole bunch of cool things such as; take the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Odawara*, talk with some of the Hitachi engineers and Execs, visit the Hitachi 100th anniversary uValue convention, and hang out with some top technical talent.
*Odawara is the Engineering site where a lot of the Universal Storage Platform – USP – development and engineering goes on
Below are my highlights from the visit.
HDS really is an integral part of Hitachi’s future
In the past I have been as sceptical as anybody else – may be even more sceptical than most – about the true value of little-ol’ HDS to the gigantic conglomerate that is Hitachi Ltd.
It’s one thing for HDS to say “we’re very important to Hitachi” but to see and here it from the big man himself, Nakanishi-san, was the moment I really started believing –
Nakanishi-san spent a lot of time talking about HDS during his keynote at the uValue convention. I didn’t time him and can’t give exact figures, but my gut feel is that HDS (and the larger Hitachi IT Group ITSG) got about 1/4 of the airtime during his keynote. The below slide, showing the 4 key areas of focus for Hitachi, seem to back this up –
HDS aren’t scared of Hitachi
I’ve also said in the past that I felt HDS are afraid of Hitachi. Almost living in fear of offending their superiors at Hitachi. I’m now open to being wrong on that one…
During one of the nights out in Japan I was sat on a table with Oeda-san (Manager of the Product Planning department in the Disk Array Systems Division) so I decided to make good use of my time with him and and ask him if he found the relationship with HDS challenging. I was honestly surprised at his quick and decisive response. He absolutely finds the relationship with HDS challenging…… but in a good way. Apparently HDS are always putting him and the other related teams in Japan under huge pressure to deliver, and deliver fast. The picture he painted was not one of a timid little HDS tip-toeing around Hitachi, afraid that they might offend.
Oeda-san also talked of the cultural differences between Japan and the US, as well as about the process for releasing new products and features – it was very interesting.
Object is important
This one still has me interested. I got a lot of vibes about HCP, the Hitachi Content Platform.
In fact I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t pick up on the importance of this previously. After all, Hitachi/HDS acquisitions are about as rare as rocking horse manure, so when they acquired Archivas I should have taken more notice!
It actually took two other things to peak my interest –
1. Nakanishi-san (big chief of Hitachi Ltd) made several references to the HCP platform both verbally and in slide-ware (although his slide-deck still referred to it as HCAP). When the head-honcho is talking about it, it must be important.
2. Michael Hay seems to have a twinkle in his eye when he talks about HCP. It’s just a gut feeling, but I generally go with my gut. Right now my gut is telling me that object stores is something I need to study up on.
For those of you who have not met Michael, there is something about him that I can’t quite put my finger on. But my gut tells me that he is one to listen to and work with.
Interestingly I don’t see a huge amount of HCP out there, and if its the product that is so important then it will be interesting to see how well HDS can market it. However, I’m open to the possibility that it is as much the IP and core technology, as it is the current incarnation, that is important. Might HCP/object based technologies have a part to play elsewhere in the storage space? After all, they have already stripped the “Archive” out of the product name, suggesting it has wider appeal.
Advice: If you don’t know much about object stores yet, start learning. I am.
Despite all the good vibes and interesting insights, I’m still uncertain whether Hitachi is capable of executing on this grand vision outside the shores of Japan.
Japan is not like the rest of the world that I have visited. If you haven’t been, then just trust me, its different. Business is clearly done differently outside of Japan than it is inside. I wonder if Hitachi are appropriately equipped to compete with the likes of Cisco, EMC and the other superpowers of the IT world. To this end I asked Iwata-san if he felt the time had come for more non-Japanese executives walk the corridors of power at Hitachi. While I received a polished politician style answer, Iwata-san seemed to suggest that such things were being considered at the highest levels.
I’m also not convinced that Hitachi, by nature, are leaders and innovators. We all know that they are great at making copies – “Hitachi” and “plug-compatible” go together like “McDonalds” and “Greg Knieriemen”. But copying and perfecting an idea is totally different to creating and perfecting the idea.
I know that the Universal Storage Platform practically invented storage virtualisation (at least controller based), but I don’t see a whole lot else. And yes I know that most of the interesting innovation seems to come from the start-ups – but Hitachi don’t seem to be in the acquisition game either.
One example of not being leaders was in the references made to Gartner style predictions. While the likes of EMC can arguably drive and create new markets, I still wonder if Hitachi, by nature, is more of a copy and perfect animal. The problem with that approach is that it is damn hard to claw market share away from the company that creates the market – just ask EMC about trying to win market share from NetApp in the NAS space.
One thing is for sure though, Hitachi certainly have the money, the R&D and the desire to compete. With a little tweaking, who knows what they can achieve in the next 100 years!
DISCLOSURE: It only cost me £60, in airport car parking fees, to go Japan. HDS picked up the rest of the tab. But just in case you think I’m an HDS fan-boy then I encourage you to listen to the following two Infosmack podcasts (MP3). The guys on the podcasts have been to HDS and Hitachi with me and point out in these podcasts that I have no problems locking horns with either HDS or Hitachi –
FINALLY: I highly recommend the Infosmack podcasts to anyone who wants to keep up to date with the comings and goings of the storage and enterprise tech industry. I usually listen to them in my car – good use of time.
For Part 1 of HDS and Hitachi, see here