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An Interview with Dr. Takahashi

by Hu Yoshida on Nov 28, 2012

At the core of Hitachi Data Systems product portfolio is our enterprise storage systems, which were originally developed in the early 1990s as a RAID storage array that could support both mainframe as well as open systems with enterprise availability and performance. Each generation of our enterprise storage systems has introduced new innovations in storage networking, disaster recovery, storage virtualization, and dynamic provisioning. The person who led the development of these product innovations is Dr. Naoya Takahashi. IEEE, the world’s largest professional association for advancement of technology, recently recognized Dr. Takahashi’s contributions and awarded him the 2012 Reynold B. Johnson Information Storage Systems Award.  I met Dr. Takahashi 15 years ago when I joined Hitachi Data Systems as the product manager for open systems storage, so I was very pleased to be able to catch up with him for a short interview.

Hu: Dr. Takahashi, congratulations on winning the IEEE Reynold B. Johnson Information Storage Systems Award.

Dr. Takahashi: It’s a great honor for me to receive this award. I’m glad that our technology and our Storage Solutions business are highly regarded by IEEE.

Hu: The citation in this award is “For leadership in the development of innovative storage systems for heterogeneous open and mainframe servers, business continuity solutions and virtualization of heterogeneous storage systems,” and recognizes your leadership in the storage industry paradigm shift to a new storage architecture and storage virtualization. You have filed more than 26 overseas patents, 10 Japan patents, and published papers on storage topics like replication, caching, multi-pathing, semiconductor storage, and even optical storage. When we first met, you were the senior manager of storage systems, responsible for the development and productization of a storage system based on the concept of RAID, which was new at the time. Was that your first experience with storage systems?

Dr. Takahashi: When I first joined Hitachi I was in charge of products based on optical technology. As a senior manager of storage products my first assignment was the development and productization of midrange storage systems. A year later, I led the development and productization of enterprise storage systems. During this assignment, I was able to develop new RAID-based enterprise storage systems leveraging the experience and knowledge I gained from my time working with optical technology and also midrange storage systems.

Hu: One of the things I liked about the first RAID product was the use of a separate control store, which enabled users to dynamically configure the systems and support mainframes as well as open systems. What were some of the other innovations that led to the development of today’s Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform (VSP)?

Dr. Takahashi: One of the most important technologies is the cross bar switch architecture. This is essential to achieving high scalability.

The other important innovation is virtualization technology. Hitachi virtualization technology is unique in that it can virtualize external (heterogeneous) storage without any appliance. The development of this technology was very difficult, but it is very important to achieve simplification and consolidation of storage systems. I was convinced that being able to virtualize external storage was necessary based on many discussions with colleagues at Hitachi Data Systems and from my own intuition.

Hu: In 2004 when everyone else in the industry was trying to virtualize external storage with appliances sitting in the SAN, Hitachi chose to virtualize external storage through their enterprise control unit, Hitachi Universal Storage Platform (USP). This was radically different from everyone else in the industry. This was a bold step in a market where customers are very conservative. Were you worried that we would not succeed?

Dr. Takahashi: I felt strongly that achieving external storage virtualization through the storage control unit was the best approach to take and I promoted the development of this technology within Hitachi. In addition, I had developed “remote copy”, so this gave me more confidence that we would succeed in our development. I believed that customers who wanted to use virtualization technology also wanted scalability. Unfortunately virtualization based on an appliance has some restrictions, so I felt that we really needed to take a different approach from other vendors.

Hu: When we introduced storage virtualization with Hitachi USP at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, I remember asking you what was next. Do you remember what you said to me?

Dr. Takahashi: Yes, I remember talking to you about extending virtualization of storage to the volume level to make better utilization of storage capacity.

Hu: When you joined Hitachi in April of 1973, did you think that storage would play such an important role in IT?

Dr. Takahashi: I didn’t think so at the time, but I started to believe storage would play an important role in IT after joining the storage systems development team. At that point I felt strongly that IT system architectures would change from a server-centric model to a storage-centric model.

Hu: What advice would you give to young engineers who are joining Hitachi today and desire to work on the next big thing?

Dr. Takahashi: The advice I would give to young engineers is this:

  • Have the spirit to challenge the status quo and think in new ways
  • Educate yourself in many fields, outside of storage technology
  • Learn what the market needs are and think about what customers want
  • Think about what is needed to outperform other products

Hu: Thank you Dr. Takahashi. Challenging the status quo and understanding the market and customers needs are exemplified in your achievements.  I look forward to the achievements of our young engineers who follow in your footsteps.

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