Well, we all knew that Hitachi (through HDS and HP) would be announcing some sort of refresh to their high-end storage platform sooner or later.
As EMC is Hitachi's only viable competitor in this part of the market, I think people are expecting me to say something.
Well, rather than get into the weeds, I saw a few aspects of the announcement that made me realize that both companies see the world very differently.
To Begin With
If you're a high-end storage kind of person, your universe is basically a binary star: EMC and Hitachi orbiting each other, with the interesting occasional sideshow from other vendors trying to claim relevance in this space.
Demand for these high-end storage architectures appears to be on the upswing, as far as I can tell from customer conversations. Smaller and more modular storage architectures have their roles (and fans), but more people are coming around to the unarguable advantages of these purpose-built scaled platforms.
Given that it's basically down to two vendors in this space, it's getting progressively easier to spot the differences on how each sees the world.
I have only made a cursory investigation of the HDS announcement materials at this time. I work for a competitor, so everything I say should be taken with the appropriate caveats. And I have worked in and around EMC's Symmetrix business since I got here 16 years ago, which has resulted in an unavoidable bias.
The Question Of Processors
EMC makes no bones about it: we see the future as Intel-based -- not only for the vast majority of server workloads, but for building advanced storage products as well. As a result, the Symmetrix VMAX (as is true for all other EMC storage products) is Intel-based, rather than the more proprietary hardware that is powering the Hitachi offerings.
On a tactical level, EMC is betting that the well-known tick-tock of the Intel roadmap will give us more processing power and more cores (at lower power and associated costs) than any other alternative. On a strategic level, we also are betting that Intel-based storage platforms will be able to gain new functionality more quickly, simply because we can leverage the vast Intel-compatible ecosystem.
It's a bold bet. We're basically claiming that more customer value can be derived by investing in software, and riding the wave of ever-improving industry standard hardware components to build our hardware platforms.
It'd be relatively easy to claim that "storage is different", and make a case for continuing investment in specialized ASICs and processors and the like. Well, in my opinion, storage arrays really aren't all that different -- they're basically huge server engines that do I/O for a living.
And, just like the market attractiveness of a server built with proprietary parts is somewhat limited, its inevitable that the same will be true for storage arrays.
[Whoops! Realtime update -- Hu Yoshida just mentioned during their announcement that -- yes -- Hitachi and HDS are now part of the Intel fan club. Welcome!]
Single Footprint Vs. Federated
Much can be made about who's got the biggest array: capacity, spindles, ports, memory, etc. And there's something inherently attractive in "bigger equals better" positioning.
But in the real world, there are pragmatic limits to how much storage you want to put in a single physical enclosure, or -- more realistically -- a single physical location.
The current design theme from Hitachi appears to be pretty clear: a single, monolithic array with as much stuff as you can cram into it, or -- in some cases -- put behind it.
By comparison (although the VMAX specs as a stand-alone array are nothing to apologize for) the underlying design theme is very different: federated pools of storage resources, working together to create a fabric of capabilities (think VPLEX and progressively more distance), rather than putting it all in one ginormous array.
Storage As Part Of The Enterprise Stack Vs. A Stand-Alone Domain
EMC sees storage as a set of intelligent resources and services that expose themselves to other layers in the enterprise stack. A good example of this thinking is the incredible levels of investment in VMware and other hypervisors, not to mention significant investment in the new generation of converged IT stacks (think EMC Ionix UIM and Vblocks).
In this world, the role of storage management and administration is fundamentally different: it's about delivering services carved from pools of resources that others consume, rather than a self-contained world of storage along traditional boundaries.
Call it cloud, call it IT-as-a-service, call it whatever -- we're pretty adamant that the future of storage is integration, not isolation.
The Differences In Thinking Are Clear
I'm sure there will be much back-and-forth between the two vendors regarding the specifics of our respective storage arrays. There's a lot at stake, and most of the momentum (as well as customer investment) has been going to EMC over the last few years.
Hitachi will need to make a case that -- not only is their product competitive -- but that they've made the right bets on the future of high-end enterprise storage, and -- more importantly -- the context it must work within.
And, by that measure, I think they've still got some work ahead of them :-)