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Hitachi Data Systems: A storage giant lost in translation

I just don't know what I'm supposed to be

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The HDS mystery

HDS is a western body wrapped around a Japanese core, contributing market intelligence and customer needs to that core. In storage companies like EMC and NetApp people involved in the development of core technologies and the deepest company strategies are the same nationalities and share the same culture as the outer marketing, sales, service and support staff. They take part in standards bodies and technology conferences and brief financial analysts. The general IT world of customers both large and small, competitors, analysts, and reporters feel they have a handle on EMC, NetApp and their western economy-based competitors because of this.

There is a blind spot to westerners at the Japanese heart of HDS because it is Japanese, and both the language and the culture make it pretty impenetrable to westerners. There is, for example, no movement of core staff between the Hitachi Storage Solutions Group and western competitors, nothing like the move of EMC's David Donatelli to HP. HDS CEO Jack Domme is not the CEO of Hitachi SSG, notwithstanding that he has done a brilliant job at integrating HDS with Hitachi SSG and developing HDS' own capabilities through deals and the Archivas acquisition.

Who do we know of in Hitachi SSG? Yoshihiro Asaka is the general manager of storage systems development in Hitachi SSG. Most of us have never heard of him. Shigeo Honma is Hitachi SSG's chief engineer and a top Hitachi storage research and development man, but also relatively unknown in the west.

Hu Yoshida is a public face and CTO for HDS, but he is American, not Japanese. The ex-head of HDS in the USA, Dave Roberson, did move to HP and HP recently agreed to continue the OEM agreement with Hitachi SSG for the USP-V, which indicates how highly HP views the product, but such personnel moves are small in number.

Hitachi SSG is good though, very good, at gaining market intelligence from the west through HDS. One aspect of this is research. In 2000 it started up a research lab at its Santa Clara headquarters, and this is partially staffed by researchers on rotation from other Hitachi research centres around the globe. It also bought Archivas in 2007 and that archiving technology forms part of the Hitachi Content Platform with a development centre in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is as if Hitachi SSG hoovers up marketing requirements outside Japan through HDS and then builds the products needed, or rather refines the existing products using resources from across Hitachi, and sells them through HDS outside Japan.

It's a formula that has worked well so far.

Lost in Translation

The fact is HDS cannot really explain and present itself in its entirety to western customers and the western IT market in the same way as a Dell, an HP or NetApp or EMC can. We just don't feel we know what makes HDS tick in the same way we do Dell and the others. HDS is just not family because of this.

It cannot explain why it created the USP-V - because it didn't, Hitachi SSG did, in Japan, and its deepest thinking and reasons for doing so are literally lost in translation. HDS is a not very transparent and relatively impermeable western skin wrapped around the Japanese enigma that is Hitachi SSG. Like a champion masked wrestler we are left with the thought that, boy, he's really good but we don't have a clue who he really is. Setting aside the fading celebrity angle, the film Lost in Translation really is quite an apt metaphor for HDS and the Hitachi Storage Solutions Group. ®

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