HDS, BlueArc in Big NAS Deal

HDS takes a crack at high-end NAS with OEM deal, small equity stake in BlueArc

December 12, 2006

4 Min Read
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After weeks of speculation, HDS finally signed a five-year OEM deal with BlueArc in an attempt to bolster its high-end NAS position. (See Hitachi Signs BlueArc OEM.)

Speaking on a conference call this morning, Dave Roberson, the Hitachi CEO, explained that he has had his eye on the storage side of the high-performance computing (HPC) market for some time. "We believe that there has been a lot of work done on the compute side, but there's a strong need for storage to support" that computing power, he said.

The exec explained that Hitachi looked at "a number of alternatives," before settling on BlueArc, which beefed up its Titan family of NAS boxes with the launch of the Titan 2000 earlier this year. (See BlueArc Beefs Up Titan, BlueArc: The Game Has Changed, and BlueArc Returns to Trough.)

The Titan 2000 will now be rebranded as the Hitachi high-performance NAS platform, a 512-Tbyte storage system which Hitachi is touting as a challenger to EMC's Celerra device and NetApp's FAS and V Series products.

Scalability has traditionally been cited as a weak point of NAS, although a number of vendors are now touting NAS platforms that have no theoretical limit in either physical storage or global namespace. (See The Outer Limits of NAS and NAS Roadmap .)Hitachi doesn't view government research labs and cone-head academic researchers as its target audience for the new platform. "It opens up a lot of new opportunities for us, particularly in the content-intensive industries," said Roberson, highlighting Internet services, rich media, oil and gas, and engineering as potential targets.

Rumors have swirled for the last few weeks that HDS was on the verge of signing an OEM deal with BlueArc as part of an aggressive 2007 product refresh. (See Hitachi Looks to Refresh NAS.)

It isn't Hitachi's first attempt to crack the NAS market. The vendor resold Network Appliance NAS until coming out with its own NAS blades that plug into its TagmaStore high-end SAN systems in April 2005. (See NAS Up Next for Hitachi.) Earlier this year, HDS added NAS filers for its midrange Workgroup Modular Storage (WSM) and Adaptable Modular Storage (AMS) systems.

The sheer size of the BlueArc system will help HDS make inroads in the enterprise NAS market, according to StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz. "It could apply to anybody with ultra-large file serving," he told Byte & Switch. "It could be a play for an Amazon or an eBay -- any large e-tailer."

HDS could also use its OEM relationship with Sun to bolster its NAS presence. "HDS is already selling a lot of product through Sun, so it is a natural extension for HDS to sell this product through them," says Schulz, adding that Sun needs a large, clustered NAS solution.The analyst, though, admits that HDS is in the slipstream of other NAS vendors. "They have got some catch-up to do," he says, although this may not be a major problem. "IBM had several false starts, then a little over a year ago, they corrected that with a partnership with NetApp. I think that there's still plenty of time."

Specific details on how Hitachi and Blue Arc's technologies will be integrated are still being thrashed out. "There has been a lot of work completed about interoperability and roadmap discussions," explained Mike Gustafson, the BlueArc CEO. "That's not to say that a tremendous amount of work has to be done, but the plans are laid out."

Long-term, Hitachi has a real fight on its hands establishing a significant presence in the NAS space. According to analyst firm IDC, EMC and Network Appliance together hold more than 70 percent of the market.

Industry insiders have already predicted that today's deal will likely involve BlueArc selling Hitachi controllers with its NAS systems -- similar to and perhaps replacing BlueArc's OEM deal with LSI Logic's Engenio unit. (See BlueArc, Engenio Announce OEM.) Execs on this morning's call did not address this issue. Hitachi has also made a private equity investment in BlueArc, "a minority position," according to Roberson, though he would not reveal the value.

For BlueArc, more reseller partnerships are looming on the horizon, according to CEO Gustafson. "There's a lot of discussions in the pipeline," he told Byte & Switch, although he did not name any names.The Hitachi high-performance NAS platform is available now, with an average configuration priced at around $300,000.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Storage Systems Group

  • IDC

  • LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • The StorageIO Group

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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