Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), backed by partners Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, expects to overtake market leader EMC early next year in global sales of enterprise computer storage devices. This bold prediction by HDS chief executive Shinjiro Iwata marked an escalation of the two companies' rivalry in the US$54 billion world market for enterprise storage hardware, software and services. In April, HDS and EMC each slapped the other with a lawsuit for alleged product patent infringements that threw out previous plans to foster interoperability between their products. 'We look forward to overtaking total EMC sales by March next year,' Mr Iwata said, noting that his forecast just happened to coincide with the much-anticipated release of EMC's new and improved Symmetrix enterprise storage system. He stressed that reaching such a milestone would merely solidify the gains made by HDS in recent years 'to deliver more competitive, technologically advanced storage hardware and software products to the market'. Both HDS and EMC develop, manufacture and market refrigerator-sized storage devices - connected to any computer operating system or network - that help large enterprises store, protect, move, manage and access mostly digital corporate information. A subsidiary of Japanese electronics giant Hitachi, HDS has licensed its Lightning-brand enterprise storage system to large computer vendors such as HP, Sun and SGI, either on a reseller or an original equipment manufacturer arrangement. Mr Iwata said those partnerships had generated consistent business for HDS, especially in the Asia-Pacific, even as total worldwide spending on computer storage products continued to remain weak because of the economic slowdown. Both Sun and HP, for example, have paved the way for HDS to capture business among large users of Unix-powered servers. Mr Iwata admitted there was fierce price competition in the storage market, but stressed that the average system capacity orders for HDS had grown from about four terabytes two years ago to about seven terabytes at present. A recent UBS Warburg report said the new HDS 9900 V-series product was enjoying average prices that were 10 per cent to 20 per cent higher than the present line of EMC Symmetrix systems and now accounted for 30 per cent to 50 per cent of HDS' high-end enterprise storage sales. The report said: 'We believe the relatively stable setting in enterprise storage is being driven by Hitachi and its decision to adopt a premium-pricing strategy on its industry-leading technology.' Mr Iwata noted that HDS should firmly overtake EMC with the release later this year of its updated Thunder mid-range storage system, a renewed focus on network-attached storage deals and the continued development of its TrueNorth software initiative for interoperable storage management. 'We are aggressively working to grow our combined software and services business so that it will contribute between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of total HDS revenues over the next 12 to 18 months,' he said. He explained that 80 per cent of HDS software was embedded within its storage systems. This situation is expected to change over the next few years when more than half the software sales worldwide will be from stand-alone software products. EMC, however, has remained focused on its own market initiatives. The company released this week updated programmes under its AutoIS software strategy. This initiative is centred on making networked storage environments simple, automated and open in enterprise computer networks that use multi-vendor storage systems.