LAS VEGAS – The Hitachi Data Systems Connect partner show this week is serving as a coming out party for a newly focused HDS.
The conference comes as HDS strives to evolve -- with help from the rest of Hitachi -- from merely selling storage to competing with industrial titans such as GE or Siemens.
HDS did make its share of storage product launches, including a new midmarket version of its flagship Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) storage array family. It also jumped on the hyper-convergence bandwagon with two products. Those products nudge HDS a bit from its standing as a high-end enterprise array specialist, and that is part of its new strategy.
Still, company executives spoke to 3,000-plus attendees as if HDS storage products are no more than cogs in a much bigger wheel that goes beyond traditional IT.
There was a lot of talk about software-defined from the vendor that specializes in storage virtualization. There was even more talk about "social innovation" concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) that vaguely included storage.
"We are a different company today than we were in the past. And we'll be different in another three to five years," HDS COO Brian Householder declared during the show's opening keynote.
The word transformation was also thrown around a lot as HDS tries to redefine itself. When talking about software-defined storage, HDS executives sounded like those from any storage company. But they don't sound like storage execs when talking about how their technologies can enable smart cities, make trains run on time and even help to cure brain cancer.
The social innovation theme goes back to HDS' acquisition of data analytics vendor Pentaho in February. That deal has yet to close, but HDS already has big plans to use Pentaho software in a large range of products.
Who can blame HDS for trying to change its storage strategy? All legacy storage vendors need to do that. But it's not clear how the HDS messaging around social innovation will play with the hard-core IT crowd.
HDS executives: Focus is still on storage
The social innovation theme revolves around IoT, big data analytics and storing and using metadata efficiently. You can see where those capabilities fit into storage. But HDS executives talk up how these technologies improve city planning, healthcare, mining and transportation without giving specifics about the underlying storage. All of that is good and impressive technology, but is it relevant to the storage administrator looking to protect critical databases or eliminate the storage bottleneck from a VDI system?
"We're connecting what works today with what's next," HDS CEO Jack Domme said during the opening keynote. He added, "We are trying to impact society in a positive way."
Is there a connection between social innovation and storage systems? Maybe. Sara Gardner, HDS chief of strategy for social innovation, said the algorithms, code and best practices developed for social innovation solutions can also be applied to storage. It remains to be seen if they will be used to make better storage products, or if storage will turn into near-invisible pieces in these overarching solutions.
Executives claim HDS storage will remain a big part of the company's DNA.
"Yes, we still do storage," HDS VP of product management Roberto Basilio said, tongue in cheek, to open a deep dive into HDS software-defined storage.
"We're much more than a storage company," added Asim Zaheer, HDS SVP of worldwide marketing. "We feel IT is critical to things we want to do in social innovation, and those things need to be linked."
Domme was asked during an interview with media and analysts if the social innovation initiatives will take away from HDS' storage focus.
"We don't want to lose our focus," he said. "Look at our real-time analytics. That's enhanced our focus on infrastructure. We're strengthening that piece of it. I don't think there's a de-focus there."
One storage analyst said, if successful, the HDS transformation can lift it above other storage and IT vendors.
"It takes guts," said Ashish Nadkarni, IDC storage research director. "This is something EMC can't do without a major partnership."
Forrester Research analyst Henry Baltazar said HDS had to try something different and the software-defined storage part of the plan is a response to how storage is sold today. HDS has always specialized in large storage arrays for enterprises, and that market is on the decline.
"What choice do they have?" he said. "People want to buy software, they're not making big infrastructure buys."