Hitachi Data Systems CEO Shinjiro Iwata wants to change his company's hardware-centric view of the market. As part of that mission he wants to use storage standards, such as SNIA's CIM common management interface, to improve the breadth and quality of the software that supports their hardware.

A first step in this direction was the company's recent link-up with AppIQ for storage management software and with IXOS for email archiving.

"Our HiCommand software is structured to make it open, so we can integrate other software into our suite," Iwata says. "We don't ask customers to throw away their other software assets. Some of our software is better than the others and some is behind. We want the best mixture for the customer."

HDS quotes figures from analysts, which suggest that over the next five years spending on storage solutions will shift to be 80 per cent software and just 20 per cent hardware. Its aim therefore, is to boost its software side so it can stay in the game.

Iwata's view is that there is a relatively small pool of key specialist talent in the industry. In the future the best solutions will come from those companies which bring together the best options, in the most effective way. He says that in some cases this might mean buying technology. HDS does have the option to buy AppIQ stock in the future, although may not necessarily do so.

"Open standards means being more collaborative," he adds. "I believe we have the thought leadership to make the storage world more open. It should be the way to make customers' life easier. Standards is part of our DNA - we've done it for a long time."

He acknowledges that the road has not been as smooth as it might have been and that there are still doubters: "In the history of IT, sometimes standardisation has happened and sometimes is has not, so scepticism is there. We believe we can deliver on it over time though."

"CIM is essential but has taken much longer than expected - standardisation in general has taken longer than expected."

The role of CIM parallels that of virtualisation, in his view, as it allows you to manage all your storage together, regardless of manufacturer. Having used CIM to build the infrastructure, and then added storage management on top, the next big prize will be the storage application market. This is exemplified by EMC's recent purchase of content management software house Documentum and the huge interest in information/data lifecycle management.

"When we try to make an industry standard, that opens the way for the next level," Iwata explains. "We started talking data lifecycle management to customers over a year ago and came to the conclusion that we had to have cross-platform movement of data, not a specific box, because data can move back and forth - it's a kind of policy management."

He says this is why HDS will not do a dedicated archive box along the lines of EMC's Centera, or NetApp's NearStore, but instead provides the similar capabilities through software: "The customer doesn't need to change his infrastructure in order to get ROI. We are the only storage vendor that can provide email archiving on your existing infrastructure, the others all need different hardware."

And he adds that although some companies see software standards as a threat, he sees opportunities - not least the chance to sell more hardware. "The dialogue with customers today is mostly about business issues. Hardware is very important but at the same time we need software and services," he says.

"There is still revenue in standard software - in the future customers will be spending more on software than on hardware. But we don't say we are a software company, we are a solution provider. Hardware is still very important for us as the platform."