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Hitachi Data Systems took the gloves off when it introduced a line of aggressively priced network-attached storage blades for its TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform.

The Santa Clara, Calif., vendor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., plans to begin offering new NAS products for customers ranging from the SMB (small and midsize business) market to the enterprise. The kick-off NAS technologies will sell for one-third of the price of competing NAS gateways and fliers, said Tom Valiante, vice president of channels for the Americas at Hitachi Data.

“With the newly introduced NAS blades, Hitachi will focus on capturing new NAS gateway and flier sales opportunities and [on] consolidating all existing NAS gateways and fliers in an enterprise environment,” he said. “Following the introduction of embedded NAS blades in its high-end systems, Hitachi’s strategy is to introduce a series of channel-optimized midrange NAS offerings targeting the fast-growing Windows- and Linux-based SMB markets.”

The NAS market is expected to reach $3.1 billion by 2008, according to IDC. Network Appliance Inc. continues to dominate the market, with 53.1 percent of the market revenue, found a September 2004 report by Gartner Inc.

“Network Appliance was the first to put the stake in the ground,” said Dianne McAdam, senior analyst and partner at The Data Mobility Group, a Nashua, N.H.-based storage industry research firm. “EMC’s been doing well at it, too.”

But Hitachi Data’s successful history in the battle over enterprise storage could give the company an advantage as corporations look to consolidate storage technologies and suppliers, McAdam said. “They’re a well-respected vendor, and are in a lot of very large shops,” she said.

Hitachi Data already was a contender in the NAS space. In December 2002, Network Appliance and Hitachi Data inked an OEM deal whereby Hitachi Data began offering NetApp enterprise NAS gateway solutions for Hitachi Freedom Storage environments managed by HiCommand Management Framework tools.

“It was clear HDS was going to develop their own native support,” said McAdam.

In addition to strengthening its product line, Hitachi Data is flexing its channel muscle.

“The NAS initiative provides our partners with another solution for them to provide to their customers,” said Valiante. “We meet with solution providers on a daily basis, and we listen to their concerns and ask about their opportunities in the marketplace. The partners have been asking about the NAS blades, and we can now provide the products to fit their customers’ needs.”

The channel will play a crucial role in Hitachi Data’s NAS efforts, according to a report by Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a Milford, Mass.-based analyst and consulting firm. “HDS will also focus on strengthening its reseller channel, which is essential for providing solutions in the SMB space,” Asaro’s report said.

To date, Hitachi Data has not rolled out channel elements specific to its burgeoning NAS line. “We sell many solution components—switches, NAS, HBA, software services, hardware, etc.—and this is just another piece of the pie,” said Valiante. “Although our program does not currently have a specific component relating to the NAS products, they are considered as part of the total solution, so our partners are rewarded by selling the NAS product.”