The Ibrix Deal: More than Meets the Eye


So what exactly are HP's plans for storage, which, not surprisingly, has emerged as the key growth area in the still-struggling data center market?

That's the question a lot of people are asking following the company's announcement that it will acquire Ibrix, a maker of large scale-out file storage systems.

At first blush, the deal looks rather ho-hum: a big platform company buying out a smaller specialist firm to augment its technology base. But the more you get into it, the more you realize there are a lot of layers to this onion.

The first question that comes to mind, of course, is, what's in it for customers? As Robin Harris points out on his Storage Mojo blog, Ibrix does have a unique approach to simplifying complex storage architectures. The system is based on an "area code" that offers direct file access to any node in the cluster, eliminating much of the overhead typically needed for data storage management.

That's all well and good, but it's important to note that the companies have been working closely over the past few years and that Ibrix's technology is already available on the StorageWorks, ProLiant, BladeSystem and ProCurve lines. So there's not much gain there for customers.

For HP, though, the deal works on a number of levels. First off, the company now has a near-lock on clustered file storage, what with the previous purchases of Polyserve and LeftHand. It also takes a lot of the pressure off for HP to shell out umpteen billions for NetApp now that NetApp's bid for Data Domain has fallen through.

It also gives HP a wedge into the burgeoning cloud storage market, as Ibrix is increasingly seen as an underlying technology for building internal clouds that enterprises can provision and maintain behind their own firewalls. On GigaOM, Stacey Higginbotham reports that HP is not looking to provide its own set of cloud storage services, but would more likely use Ibrix to set up multi-petabyte architectures for top-tier customers.

The one wrinkle in all this, and it's a minor one, is what HP will do with Ibrix's existing channel agreements. Besides, HP itself, the company's top two partners are EMC and Dell. Termination of those agreements will likely put a damper on Ibrix's current revenue stream, but at the same time you don't want to hand over a key enabling technology to your chief competitors.

Like I said, there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. But the fact is that storage is likely to remain the golden goose for some time to come even as data management technologies like deduplication start to chip away at the need for ever-expanding capacity.

And with both server and networking technologies under its wing as well, HP looks to have the three pillars of data center infrastructure well in hand.