Users give HP EVA plans the nod

As word of new products from HP works its way through the grapevine, users say the company has finally caught up to its competitors -- but there's still room left to differentiate.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is set to announce improvements to its Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) midrange array and other storage products Feb. 21, according to a PowerPoint presentation leaked to the press and recently obtained by SearchStorage.com.

According to the presentation, the company's StorageWorks XP arrays will now attach to its EVA midrange family. The cache memory in the EVAs, meanwhile, will ship with double the cache memory later this year, improving performance. The EVAs will also offer new connectivity options, both iSCSI connectivity through an add-on ProLiant server (provided that server is running Windows Storage Server 2003) as well as 4 Gbit Fibre Channel. Also, according to the report, the EVAs will be compatible with 400 GB and 500 GB low-cost Fibre ATA (FATA) drives.

David Colesante, chief technology officer of VeriCenter Inc., a managed services outsourcing firm, has been using iSCSI connectivity through Cisco Systems Inc., but being able to use lower cost hardware for iSCSI connectivity through HP appealed to him. He also said the boosted FATA capacity "seemed like a step above the competitors."

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As for the rest, however, "It's good to see HP doing what's required to keep up with the competition -- there was concern on our part within the last 12 to 18 months that HP was not going to be a long-term viable player in storage," he said. "But there are also areas where continued investments should be made to really differentiate HP."

Colesante said his chief area of interest in HP's further development is deeper virtualization capabilities between arrays (the EVA already does virtualization inside the box).

But as yet, the only concrete information available on HP's roadmap in the near future is strictly related to tweaks on specific products revealed in the leaked PowerPoint. Aside from the EVA updates, HP also plans to announce that its WAN accelerator will support encrypted communications and include protocol acceleration for Microsoft SQL Server; perform high-speed TCP optimization and offer a proxy file service.

"That's something I'm looking for," said Chip Register, chief technology officer of NetBank Inc. Register said the online bank was looking to link up its two main data centers in Columbia, S.C., and Alpharetta, Ga., over a 150-mile WAN. Register said he was also hoping for new software that would improve hot failover between his data centers.

Register said NetBank has been a satisfied HP customer since January 2000 when it bought its first 12 terabyte (TB) HP box -- today NetBank has 135 TB of data on HP storage, "and it's just getting bigger and bigger," Register said. "We see an increase of 5 TB a month, just in one of our applications."

Register said he would welcome the database archiving capability HP is planning to add to its Reference Information Storage System through the OuterBay Technologies Inc. acquisition, but said he was wary of implementing the technology soon after the deal has closed.

"We're progressive and aggressive with the technology we'll adopt," Register said. "But I'm more careful when they acquire than when they develop technology themselves, because there seems to be a lag with them in terms of how to integrate and position a product within the HP family."

In general, however, Register concurred with Colesante's relief that StorageWorks is back on an even keel.

HP's storage saga: Coming full circle?

HP's StorageWorks business slipped badly under erstwhile CEO Carly Fiorina, following the company's messy integration with Compaq, as well as a successful patent infringement lawsuit by EMC Corp. to stop HP from selling its OpenView Continuous Access Storage Appliance. After those blows, the market wolves were upon it -- HP bled market share until May of last year when it announced upgrades to the EVA line, its tape libraries, NAS products and WAN acceleration.

Since then, HP has been aggressive with acquisitions and OEM deals, among the highlights an OEM deal with Sepaton Inc. to offer a virtual tape library and the acquisitions of AppIQ Inc. for an undisclosed amount in September 2005. Most recently, HP fired up the acquisition engines again in a deal with OuterBay that Wall Street estimated was worth around $100 million.

Other products mentioned in the upcoming announcement include the Storage Essentials management software -- it will be announced that the storage research management tool will support Tru64 and OpenVMS hosts, HP and Sun NAS, the HP-UX implementation of Veritas Volume Manager, and IBM DS 6000 and 8000 provisioning.

The HP StorageWorks Virtual Library System's capacity will be increased to 70 TB from 40 TB with use of 500 GB drives. One Button Disaster Recovery for ProLiant servers will be included in HP's StorageWorks Data Protector Express server backup software. And, support services for implementing storage consolidation and HP's Utility Ready Storage will be added to HP's portfolio of storage offerings.

'More is pending behind the scenes'

At a recent media briefing at HP's facilities in Marlborough, Mass., the company outlined consolidation, virtualization and automation as three main areas for continued development of its StorageWorks product line. Industry opinions (and rumors) are divided when it comes to HP's next steps in pursuit of these goals. Most analysts feel the company will almost certainly partner with or acquire another company, most likely for block-based virtualization between arrays.

"More is pending behind the scenes but it's hard to talk about it yet," said Rick Villars, analyst with IDC.

The two companies most often mentioned in the same breath with "HP" and "virtualization partner" are Incipient Inc. and StoreAge Networking Technologies Inc., but both players are keeping mum. One industry insider told SearchStorage that StoreAge, which just announced a big OEM deal with CA Inc., had absolutely no plans to sign an OEM deal with HP -- but another industry insider said they were the most likely possibility. Meanwhile, Incipient has hinted it will be announcing "a Tier-1 OEM" in the next month.

Long term, there's also a chance that HP could break up its businesses -- as evidenced by reports in Monday's Wall Street Journal that HP would be splitting its mobile units into four groups and spinning off its iPaq handheld business. Some Wall Street experts, namely Merrill- Lynch & Co. Inc.'s Steven Milunovich, have suggested publicly that a breakup might benefit HP. Whether the server and storage business would remain at HP is another story.

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