Hitachi Sharpens Focus With New Blade Servers

Hitachi America is looking to gain some ground in the competitive blade server market with the announcement of new servers sporting Intel Xeon and Itanium processors aimed at the multiprocessing market.

The servers being upgraded are Hitachi’s BladeSymphony 1000 and BladeSymphony 320. The 320 now sport Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Xeon 5200 and 5400 processors, which will give a 20 to 30 percent power savings over the previous generation of blades. The 1000 line adds the dual-core Itanium 9100 processors along with the Xeons.

Both blades come with Hitachi’s own embedded virtualization technology, Virtage, which works with VMware (NYSE: VMW) to optimize virtualization performance and provide better security and stability to running multiple partitions on a blade. Hitachi claims up to a 25 percent improvement in VMware performance with its firmware-based virtualization technology.

The new blades will work in the old chassis, so a site can slowly migrate to the newer hardware without having to toss out their chassis investment, according to Steve Campbell, vice president of marketing and solutions at Hitachi America.

Campbell acknowledged a struggle to compete in the American market, but felt Hitachi has some advantages. “We need to focus on product differentiation,” he told “BladeSymphony servers are mission-critical servers in a blade form factor that provides a SMP architecture in a mission-critical configuration with Xeon and Itanium for high transaction processing.”

The Hitachi blades run either Linux, such as Novell SuSe or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or Windows 2003/2008, and can be mirrored so that up to four blades can create a single multiprocessing environment with 16 cores and 256GB of memory.

Windows is not the first operating system that comes to mind for large scale multiprocessing, but Ken Kawada, product marketing manager for Hitachi America, said that at that level, Windows does just fine.

“Where Windows has been banged up in the past is large scale, 64-, 128-way systems,” he said. “In a 16-way system, Windows is very good in that environment.”

Another way that the Hitachi blades differentiate from their American counterparts is that while most blades are closed and their back plane unaccessible, the BladeSymphony is open and has a PCI slot, so it’s possible to put a PCI-X or PCI Express card in the blade and connect it to an external device or network wire.

In addition to the BladeSymphony upgrades, Hitachi also announced a Web-based console to administer the BladeSymphony 320, a doubling of the disk capacity on each blade, and several new national resellers.

Uphill battle

Hitachi had pulled out of the U.S. mainframe market in 2000, only to return to the U.S. in 2006 with its blade offerings. The company knows it has a battle to wrestle any marketshare from IBM and HP, which combined own almost three-quarter of the U.S. market. In 2007, HP held 41.7 percent of the market, followed by IBM with 30.9 percent of shipment share.

“We need channel programs,” Campbell said. “You can never have enough distributors and resellers. Obviously HP and IBM have a very long reach but it’s a starting point and you’ve got to chip away at the marketplace.”

The trick is to use regional resellers, rather than a national sales strategy, said Campbell. The company will also leverage its strength in Japan, where it has many customers and a lot of applications written for the blade servers.

Hitachi also plans to make Windows the focal point of sales pitches. “Windows with SQL Server has a strong installation base. When I think about our customer base, Windows makes up probably more than half of our prospect customer base, so it’s growing in importance,” said Campbell.

But Matt Eastwood, group vice president of enterprise platform research at IDC, said they have an uphill fight, and it’s a steep hill. “It’s a classic Japanese play. The technology is very good, as good as anybody’s. Their ability to penetrate the market is something else,” he told

Page 2: In search of new markets

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In search of new markets

He suspects Hitachi will take the same tactic as Fujitsu, which is usually fifth in the IDC and Gartner server sales lists, and target Japanese firms with a presence in the U.S., like the car makers and banks. Beyond that, it’s not clear. “They are likely to make some headway but they are never going to be a dominant player,” said Eastwood.

It’s not that the market has no interest in Hitachi, Eastwood explained, he said the problem is customers tend to stick with a vendor. As companies replace their arrays of low-utilization 32-bit servers with blades and engage in server consolidation strategies, they will likely stay with their vendor of choice.

“Bigger accounts will have a bake sale and look at what the competition is offering, but they are not going to throw their entrenched supplier out if they are happy with what they are getting,” he said.

The U.S. market is, in fact, pretty solid. Dell is the only other player that’s been able to make a run and build some momentum in the U.S. in the last 10 years. HP and IBM have decades of presence, Sun made a run in the 1990s, and Dell made its presence felt this decade with x86 servers.

Still, Eastwood liked the Hitachi offering. “Their play is strong around the ability to mix and match Itanium and x86, and they have their own virtualization platform. So they have a nice story around Linux and Windows and the ability to consolidate,” he said.

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