Q: How Is HDS doing? We've been a customer for six years and they seem to be very quiet lately. Are things OK there? -- S.B., San Antonio

A: HDS has always been a bit of an enigma to me. It has pretty much always had the coolest, cutting-edge technology around but never seems to get the recognition it deserves -- marketwise. It sure does sell a ton of stuff, which is where it really matters, but it would be nice to see the company make some more noise every now and then and flaunt its wares more publicly.

HDS is owned entirely by Hitachi Ltd., a multibillion-dollar worldwide entity making everything from TVs to rocket parts. HDS is the U.S.-based (now) independent subsidiary that sells enterprise storage systems and software. HDS sells billions of dollars' worth of those systems and software products each year. It just does it without yelling.

Don't get me wrong -- we could all use a little less marketing fluff and a little more meat on the bones. But these guys take the cake. HDS could come out with a box that runs on cold fusion and would issue a tiny press release that read, "New HDS array leads capacity race." These guys do have a way of taking massively impressive news and making it sound like they just entered a regional quilting contest. It's that conservative pedigree -- don't talk, do. Don't brag, prove. Excellent life lessons for all of us, but alas, we don't make the rules.

So, sorry for the blathering. The answer to the question is that HDS is rocking -- and not only where you would expect. It still sells a trillion yen worth of systems every year (I have taken complete liberty with this assumption because I really don't know if a trillion yen is the equivalent of the GNP of Europe or the cost of a tuna sandwich, so please forgive me.) Now, after a few years of trying, it is also selling lots of software, too. Industry vet Jack Domme started up a serious software effort at HDS a few years ago, and it is paying off in spades so far. Eventually, Domme figured, customers were going to stop caring so much about what happens in the box and start being more concerned with what happens out of the box. That's software, and HDS didn't have a play at all.

A lot of HDS software is OEM'ed at this point, but who cares? It was the first among the big guys to do a deal with AppIQ, and that worked out great. It just launched what looks like a superb archiving product that combines its own gear with a custom version of Archivas' software to compete directly with EMC's Centera and IBM's DR550.

HDS just did a deal with Signiant to use its digital asset transport technology to move things onto the archive -- from anywhere and everywhere. Partnering with folks who provide specialized technology that supports the overall mission is smart -- there is limited value in reinventing the wheel if it isn't critically strategic.

HDS's own software technology is leading the world in high-end array virtualization. Its USP (Universal Storage Platform) has been getting rave reviews in high-end shops, and it just introduced the NSC (Network Storage Controller -- snappy name, I know) -- which is all the virtualization control with NO storage capacity at all. Behind the NSC you can use HDS gear, HP gear, EMC's Symmetrix or Clariion, or other stuff -- once again, a huge, market-leading position with large ramifications that has been downplayed a bit too much. It's like calling the space shuttle a ride to work and back -- technically accurate, but a tad understated. It's like saying a Ferrari is a "fun convertible" or that Angelina Jolie is "cute."

So, HDS is doing just fine in the real world, just not as hot in the fake marketing, hype-infested world where I spend my time. Should it join the fray? Probably, because unfortunately, nobility ranks a distant second to market perception. Now, if you could generate half the buzz that some of the other guys do, and have really good stuff, wouldn't that be a powerful combo?

So, in conclusion, I guess if I have to choose between boring old success and super-mega-hype about nothing, I choose the former. Having said that, if everyone just told the truth, I wouldn't have a job, and that wouldn't be good for anybody. Marketing causes controversy, and controversy is good (for me, anyhow).

Did you hear that ABC just came out with an invisible, zero-footprint array that houses all the data ever created, at a subatomic level, that runs for 4,000 years on the static generated by a single cat coughing up a fur ball, and it's going to put everyone else in the world out of business? That's what I'm talking about...

Send me your questions -- about anything, really, to [email protected]

Steve Duplessie founded Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in 1999 and has become one of the most recognized voices in the IT world. He is a regularly featured speaker at shows such as Storage Networking World, where he takes on what's good, bad -- and more importantly -- what's next. For more of Steve's insights, read his blogs.