Hitachi: My Thoughts and Opinions

By | April 29, 2011

Six or seven years ago I took a permanent job with HDS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd (日立).

For the record I was there for about 1 year

As part of the on-boarding process we were shown a PowerPoint presentation with a picture of the CEO of Hitachi Ltd.  Alongside the picture was a quote from him, to the effect that within 10 years Hitachi would be the global leader in storage.  The presenter stressed that this was no cowboy American spouting hot air, this was a serious business man with the entire war chest of Hitachi Ltd at his disposal…..

Then and Now

At that time the HDS Lightning 9980V (the great grandfather of today’s VSP) was the HDS flagship product and the USP was well in to development.  They had some pretty cool and disruptive technologies in their arsenal.  They were kind of the new boys, gunning for a slice of the pie that EMC were gluttoning on. 

Many of us will remember the days when HDS riled nonstop on the Symmetrix for it’s 20 year-old architecture and cumbersome BIN files, while at the same time extolling the virtues of their own internal crossbar switch architecture.

However, that was then.  Now, it could even be argued that they have joined EMC with architectures and approaches that look somewhat old. 

The disruptive new-boys are now the likes of Compellent and 3PAR – both of whom now have huge companies behind them gunning for a slice of the high margin storage pie.

Things are Changing

Hitachi have traditionally had some pretty safe markets, markets that they have always sold well in to.

The Domestic Japanese Market

The Japanese market is a world galaxy apart from Western markets. 

When in Japan last year to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Hitachi Ltd I was absolutely amazed to see that Hitachi has their own Networking and Server business

Hitachi are major players in the networking and server markets of Japan, yet I doubt anyone has ever seen a Hitachi ethernet switch or x86 server outside of Japan. 

So, historically Hitachi have been able to rely on the domestic Japanese market.  However, going forward there is little doubt that the western technology giants of HP, DELL, IBM, Cisco etc will start eating into that once safe market.  When this happens, what will happen to the Hitachi Networking and Server businesses?

One answer to this dilemma would be to make up the loss by ramping oversees sales of their Networking and Server kit.  However, I see little chance of this happening.  Even the mighty Cisco, with all the kings horses and all the kings men, are struggling to win a share of the server market.

Enterprise Storage Market

The enterprise storage market is another market that has traditionally been good for Hitachi.  However, this market is changing too. 

Technologies like 3PAR and Compellent look destined to disrupt this market.  Such will be accelerated when technologies to federate such arrays arrive – allowing multiple arrays to work together as a team, enhancing mobility and flexibility, scalability etc.

Over and above the competition from 3PAR and CML, let’s add to the mix the new breed of so-called unified arrays as well as the rise of protocols such as NFS, pNFS and SMB.

Interestingly I recently read a blog post by Jose Barreto on the topic of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 over CIFS (SMB2).  This is exciting stuff as I’m a big fan if NAS/file technologies and think Microsoft are doing a cracking job with the development of the SMB protocol!  I’d love to see more from Microsoft relative to Hyper-V over CIFS similar to way that VMware works with NFS.

I see NFS and CIFS (SMB) eating away at many of the markets that Hitachi currently competes well in.

HCP: A Ray of Light

There is however, a technology that HDS has in it’s arsenal that I never fail to get excited about – the Hitachi Content Platform, or HCP for short.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that the HCP technology was an acquisition – something which is all to rare for HDS in my opinion.  Take note Hitachi, your most exciting technology, in my humble opinion, is one that you acquired.  There are a bunch of other technologies out there that you might also want to acquire.

In my opinion, HCP is key to the future for Hitachi storage.  Made for the cloud, HCP is an object based platform with the usual cloudy REST and HTTP interfaces.  It looks good and exciting, and comes with the Hitachi seal of top class engineering.  What is there not to like about it.

However, having a great technology is not enough, you need to get out there and evangelise and sell it.  Something that Hitachi have struggled to do in the past.

I am sad to say that in today’s world, good marketing is more important than good engineering!

Conclusion

Hitachi are an absolutely awesome company.  100 years old and still going strong.  I have huge respect for them! 

However…….. the world is changing and Hitachi will have to change with it.  In my opinion, they will need to –

  1. Prepare for their share of the Japanese market to eventually shrink  If planned for and factored in, this could be a good thing and does not need to be feared.
  2. Have more westerners on the Board.
  3. Have more women in senior positions
  4. Get their act together over HCP.  They have a winner on their hands of they do.
  5. Acquire more complimentary technologies.  I could list a bunch, but list is getting shorter and shorter every day.
  6. Get a File Story.  OEMing BlueArc isn’t good enough.  The competition is unifying their SAN and NAS offerings in the SMB space.
  7. Overhaul the AMS line.  This product has nothing to differentiate it over and above its peers.
  8. Invest in Michael Heffernan.  I appreciate that it’s a bit strange of me to mention an individual, but Heff has the ability to be a real industry legend and they will do well to leverage him.

It is my gut feeling that the Hitachi Server and Networking kit will never make it in the western markets and Hitachi will eventually kill off those products, consolidating their IT portfolio and focussing on storage.  However, in todays and tomorrows world of integrated stacks, they will need to up their game and get some good and strong partnerships.

Opinions expressed on this site are my own and not those of any of my employers, past present or future.

7 thoughts on “Hitachi: My Thoughts and Opinions

  1. Muse

    "I am sad to say that in today’s world, good marketing is more important than good engineering!"  
    You hit it on the head, and unfortunately, this is why HDS lost a big project with us, even as the incumbent.  Upper management drinks the marketing Kool-aid over what the Engineers know and deal with on the daily basis.  Marketing has always been very week imho.

  2. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Muse,

    It's the one thing about HDS/Hitachi that frustrates me.  Surely its easier to improve your marketing than your engineering?  So they've already done the hard part.

    Having said that, I know that HDS has more and more power andinfluence over the marketing side of the business and try hard to get the balance right.  I agree with them that they dont want to go voer the top.  We certainly won't be seeing HDS pull off stunts like EMC do with Chad Sakac and Chads World etc.  So it's easy for me to sit here and criticise.  I know they are trying hard and have some top people working on it.

  3. Elias Khnaser

    Nigel, we spoke about this extensibely if you remember and i share your thoughts. While HDS does have some great people working as much as they can, i wonder if the fix for HDS is to IPO? if Hitachi LTD would do to HDS what EMC did to VMware, would that help? i for one believe it would as the management would have more of an american way of doing business, publicly traded, quartrly numbers etc… all that would force them into better maketing i think.

  4. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Eli,

    I remember talking about this. In fact it seems to come up any time I talk extensively to anyone about Hitachi/HDS. And its not always me that brings it up 😉

    The IPO is an interesting idea, although I imagine more complex than the EMC VMware relationship, as for many of the products, such as VSP and AMS, HDS is predominantly a marketing arm. Whereas for HCP etc this is subtly different.

    The IPO certainly would remove any shackles that Hitachi has on HDS though. However, would that reduce HDS ability to acquire other companies, as I feel making a few acquisitions could strengthen them immensly.

  5. Elias Khnaser

    I agree on the acquisitions, i actually think if HDS was to do an IPO and assuming they can figure out the backend stuff and put the necessary contracts in place for coop[erations, R&D etc… which should not be difficult, HDS could raise enough money from an IPO in my opinion to turn around and pickup Brocade and possibly even Citrix. Brocase give them Networking and storage fabric, Citrix gives them what VMware gives to EMC. Now that would be an awesome move!

  6. Asim Zaheer

    Nigel,

    As always, we appreciate your thoughts. While the discussion is healthy and follows on from a few things we covered at the recent Blogger Day, I did want to address a few points you made.

    I can’t speak for Hitachi Ltd. directly, but they are very much aware of providing products beyond the Japanese domestic market, which is why Ltd. operates globally. As you may have learned in your travels to Japan, there are strategic reasons for focusing efforts on Japan in some cases.

    As you note, the enterprise storage market is definitely changing and we believe for the better. With more competition, it helps us deliver even better products to our customers.

    It was great to see and read about your excitement for HCP. While you believe we’re not doing a good job marketing and selling it, we are lock step with where we believe the market is heading and with our customers interest for content storage. This is one of the fastest growing product lines at HDS. And, we continue to invest in our business and our people not just from a sales side, but within marketing as well. While we might not compare org size-wise to some of the competition, I’d say that we’re working hard with the talent we have recruited and we’re always looking to do better than before. The VSP launch was a resounding success in that respect for us and we’re looking forward to taking all our efforts to that next level over the coming months. You’ll be hearing more from us in that regard I’m sure.

    We’re not talking about contortionists and Mini Coopers, but I’m talking marketing that is useful and educational, which is what we do here.

    Information as we see it that will help you and others in your position get your jobs done and make a lasting impression to your organizations. While I did share some highlights of our recent revenue growth and overall success across different product lines at the recent blogger day you attended, I’d love to give you some additional detail on how we performed this last quarter and financial year, which we will look to do in the coming weeks.

    To follow on your thoughts on what we need to do, we really appreciate your feedback. We might not agree with everything you say, but it’s always healthy to get the feedback.

    Asim Zaheer, VP, Corporate and Product Marketing, HDS.

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