HP's Storage Strategy

Michael Vizard

Now that Hewlett-Packard has bested Dell to gain control over 3Par, a provider of storage virtualization systems, it seems like a good time to consider what technology trends are coming together that would make the deal worth $2.35 billion to HP.

On the face of it, the bidding war over the week merely serves to highlight a glaring weakness in both companies' lineup. With all the work being done on the server side in terms of virtualization, it's only natural that IT organizations will turn their attention to storage virtualization. For whatever internal reasons, it's pretty clear that neither HP or Dell have done a lot internally to prepare for this shift.

HP, however, is trying to make up for that lapse in a hurry. The company this week also launched a set of Virtualized Storage Services, which according to Jeff Moyer, director of storage services for HP Enterprise Services, seeks to package what the company has learned about storage virtualization thus far into a set of repeatable services. That's good news for IT organizations because instead of experimenting on them, HP will be bringing a set of proven processes to the table.

That's more important than usual because storage virtualization is a lot harder than server virtualization. Applications were mostly designed around the assumption that they would have a dedicated amount of I/O bandwidth. By definition, storage virtualization means shared resources as part of an attempt to increase abysmal storage utilization rates. But most IT organizations are not prepared to deal with managing shared storage on a dynamic basis, so it's going to take a little more time before storage virtualization goes mainstream. This is especially true in the case of mission-critical applications where resistance to virtualization has been strong.

With 3Par in hand, HP has made a solid addition to a storage lineup that has been revitalized in the last two years after several years of benign neglect. In fact, that revitalization arguably began in earnest when HP acquired LeftHand Networks, a provider of iSCSI storage area networks (SAN) for the midmarket.

Moyer says the next step will be for HP to deploy more intelligence across its storage systems that will make it easier for IT organizations to manage storage in a world where not only will application workloads running on top of virtual servers be shifting all across the network, the sheer number applications generating I/O requests will expand exponentially as each physical server plays host to as many as 20 virtual servers. Most IT organizations are going to need an order of magnitude of storage automation tools to cope with that new enterprise reality.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see not only what Dell does next, but also how the rest of the storage vendor community responds. There are plenty of storage virtualization upstarts so don't be surprised if we seeing them gobbled up in quick succession.

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