Hitachi Preps Lightning Strike

Will it thunder and flash, fizzle, or simply add fuel?

September 3, 2004

3 Min Read
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Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) has chosen to keep mum about its forthcoming Lightning release, allowing industry buzz to talk for it -- at least for now.

Not surprisingly, theres been a lot more speculation than cold details in advance of the news conference Hitachi's scheduled for Tuesday, September 7, to launch its high-end SAN. The announcement is set to be the first major Lightning SAN upgrade since January 2003 (see HDS Launches Preemptive Strike).

Hitachi isn’t briefing the press before Tuesday, but details have filtered out among analysts and competitors. The launch will apparently have three main themes: universal storage, replication among arrays from different vendors, and virtualization.

On the first two features, an industry source with knowledge of the new Hitachi controller says that either late this year or early next year the new system will support Symmetrix and Clariion systems from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and FastT and Shark arrays from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). It will also support synchronous and asynchronous replication among the arrays from different vendors.

Other sources say the Lightning will also offer a blade with virtualization software that would compete with IBM’s SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and EMC’s planned virtualization hardware, both of which revolve around intelligent switches (see EMC & IBM in Virtual Skirmish).Hitachi has been leaning toward virtualization, especially through its strong partnership with software vendor AppIQ Inc. over the past year (see HDS Expands Software, Services). Hitachi incorporates AppIQ’s software in its HiCommand SAM (software application management) suite. AppIQ has concentrated on heterogeneous storage management and provisioning, which drives virtualization (see SMI-S Slogs Along and AppIQ Tackles Provisioning).

In short, it appears the new Lightning will be aimed at snatching some thunder from EMC and IBM -- something Hitachi could certainly use. According to Gartner/Dataquest, Hitachi’s controller-based disk storage revenue dropped a whopping 35.3 percent from the first to second quarters of the year, and its market share dropped from 10.8 percent after the first quarter to 6.9 percent. EMC’s market share, in contrast, rose from 22.9 percent to 23.1 percent in the second quarter.

If Lightning lives up to its hype, however, it could affect EMC, which is also facing a possible threat from IBM's planned upgrade of its high-end Shark next month. There's even a possibility the situation could mimic the one-two punch that sent EMC reeling in 2000 when Hitachi and IBM attacked its high-end base. That brought about dark days at Hopkinton over the next couple of years, marked by significant losses, a drop in market share, and heavy layoffs before EMC rebounded last year. (See EMC Hammered, EMC Bombs Big-Time, EMC Profits Fall 75%, EMC Posts Q3 Loss, Unknown Document 58729, and EMC Stagnates).

At least one analyst thinks Lightning won't strike EMC twice, however. According to Laura Conigliaro of Goldman Sachs & Co., EMC has more going in its favor now than when Hitachi rolled out Lightning in 2000. EMC’s hardware is more realistically priced; it relies less on revenue of high-end systems and more on midrange hardware, NAS, and software; and it has successfully pushed a tiered storage approach as part of its ILM strategy.

Much will become clearer next week. For now, Hitachi appears to be savoring the aura of mystery hanging over its Tuesday announcement: “This may well be the biggest staging of investor marketing events we have ever seen from HDS,” writes Conigliaro in a research note.— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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