HP aims at flexible, unified storage

It will combine standards-based blade servers and storage components with software to shift functions within

Hewlett-Packard hopes to do the same thing with storage that it did with servers, leveraging years of system-building experience and economies of scale, by blurring the distinction between servers and storage.

The company envisions platforms based on industry-standard hardware with software that can change the characteristics of each component as an enterprise's needs change, executives said at a press briefing on Friday.

"What the Nirvana is, is that I give you something that is really 100 percent truly general-purpose," said Ian Selway, worldwide solution marketing manager.

Although several major IT vendors are moving to unite computing, storage and networking, HP believes it has an advantage over rivals such as Cisco and IBM because it will let third-party products interoperate with its own and won't lock customers into specific devices or architectures.

HP's general-purpose approach will give organizations a cost-effective way to scale up their data centers, taking advantage of the company's expertise in building computing platforms and its cost advantage as, for example, the largest buyer of memory in the world, according to Jeffrey Hausman, vice president of Unified Storage at HP.

With common hardware, managed by common management software, IT administrators will have fewer things to manage and an architecture that is easier to understand than a collection of distinct computing, storage and networking boxes, Hausman said. While enterprises can benefit from this type of unified system from HP, existing storage systems from other vendors will also be able to plug in and work with it, he added.

With their extra time, IT managers can study new applications that business units want to deploy in the data center, to make sure they're deployed the best way possible, he said.

Telecommunications is one industry that's likely to embrace this approach, as carriers seek to quickly roll out new types of profitable services to make up for flagging wireline revenues, Selway said. But businesses across the board have rapidly growing storage needs, with none seeing less than 20 percent data growth over the past year and some seeing as much as 400 percent, according to HP.

The company's acquisition earlier this year of storage software vendor Ibrix plays a key role in its strategy. Among other things, Ibrix can allocate different parts of an infrastructure to file storage, block storage, virtual tape and other functions, and change that allocation as required. Its capabilities are at the center of the X9000 series of storage platforms, announced last month.

To realize HP's vision today, various components such as HP's BladeSystem storage platforms, high-density storage, Ibrix and other components need to be manually combined in most cases, Selway said. For enterprises with petabytes of data to store, the company's X9720 platform can already be used as a unified system, thanks to some tuning by HP for specific industries such as entertainment, he said. The company plans to work with independent software vendors to make the single-system platform a reality for more types of organizations, Selway said.

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