HDS VP: NetApp is Clearly Not an Enterprise Player

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Vivekenand Venugopal, VP & GM, Hitachi Data Systems, talks about the firm's storage strategy, its BlueArc acquisition, big data, and in the process, takes a dig at the competition.

CW: Why does every storage company talk about innovation when most of these "innovations" seem to be shared by all the companies operating in the market?

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) is a vertically integrated information infrastructure company. We design, manufacture, integrate, sell, supply, and support our offerings all across the value chain, and continuously make significant investments in R&D. These investments go into really understanding what challenges customers face in the marketplace, and then going back and developing solutions to eliminate those challenges. This is what differentiates HDS from the competition.

Secondly, because of our heritage of designing unique products, we are able to bring a lot of cross-pollination among various industries. For example, Hitachi has significant global presence in the power sector, and we build nuclear reactors. One of the areas our research concentrates on is efficiently reducing the heat dissipated from a nuclear reactor. We take these principles and infuse them into any storage infrastructure we set up.

So, when the rest of the industry is into acquiring companies and then integrating their strongpoint into the existing software portfolio and calling it innovation, Hitachi is developing a strategy to have common software across all platforms.

CW: What is the difference in Hitachi's way of doing unified storage virtualization?

There are significant differences in our approach to unified storage from the competition. Unified storage has typically revolved around entry-level/workgroup products, where customers have the ability to consolidate block storage and file storage.

HDS has redefined unified storage. And I use the word 'redefined' because we are the first company to bring block, file, and object storage in the same controller--not only at the mid-market level, but also at the enterprise product level. And this unified platform has virtualization embedded in the storage controller. We guarantee 100 percent data availability to customers, which is significantly different from competing products. No storage company in the industry can give this guarantee today, and neither will they because they do not have the horsepower required.

CW: NetApp recently said that it will be targeting the mid-size segment with its FAS 2200 series, and HDS intends to do the same with HUS VM. What is the strategy here?

NetApp is very clearly not an enterprise player because their solutions don't provide the capabilities that are required for the enterprise market. That is known throughout the industry, and there is absolutely no comparison between NetApp and HDS in terms of the strategy and product offerings. HDS has taken a very conscious decision to scale down. The HUS VM provides enterprise capabilities at affordable prices. We are bringing in these capabilities for customers who cannot afford these products, or are not able to get them deployed using mid-range products. Enterprise capabilities include 100 percent data availability, massive consolidation, and high levels of business continuity. And that's the reason I said NetApp is not an enterprise player. It is typically a company which offers solutions in the workgroup and mid-market segment primarily around file services.

CW: How does the BlueArc acquisition affect India?

It has really enhanced our ability to service a lot of unique market segments that are focused around high performance and highly scalable file solutions. Hitachi file solutions today are uniquely positioned to service a lot of key verticals such as media, communications, healthcare, and ITES among others. So the integration of BlueArc has given us the ability to service those markets.

CW: HDS has always been vocal about big data. What is HDS really doing in this space?

HDS provides customers the requisite infrastructure for mining data. We believe that big data is all about the ability which companies have to store, search, and make meaningful information out of it so that you can take business decisions. For that you need a high performance infrastructure which provides high scalability at the same time and that is available at the block level HDS. HDS brings the disciplines of working with structured data into unstructured data because we have the ability to provide a common platform for block file and content. The biggest challenge for now is helping a company make meaningful insights out of the mined unstructured data. This is where HDS distinguishes itself from the competition.

CW: How are companies currently dealing with unstructured data in India?

We have many customers who set up a very big backup infrastructure to store unstructured data. HDS has a simple mechanism called 'ABC' which is nothing but 'archive' your data, reduce your 'backups', and 'consolidate' your infrastructure. We ask them to refrain from backing up their unstructured data lest they want to incur huge cost of operation. Once the data is archived, the company has better governance in terms of unstructured data as a result, thus creating the true 'information life cycle management' of that content. The company can add business intelligence (BI) to that content by adding in metadata relevant to that content. The application is now separate from the content, making it reusable.

CW: Why has HDS suddenly adopted a software services-heavy approach? Is this because the traditional hardware business is not doing well?

That is a myth in the industry. To begin with, HDS took a very conscious decision six years ago to adopt a common software strategy for all the products. And that was the changing point for Hitachi. Our software revenues have grown considerably because of the value customers were able to derive from the software capabilities and that is how software and services contribute to almost 50 percent of our revenue today. The other big game-changer was when we brought in the concept of storage virtualization. It was a very significant business strategy because we were cannibalizing our own storage and entering a market replete with heterogeneous storage solutions. Our adoption strategy was to advice our customers not to 'rip and replace', but extend the usage of those assets by reclaiming allocated and unused capacity and bring that back to the business. For that, software was a unique prerequisite.

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