Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and Microsoft Corp. say there will be storage elements and products involved in their collaboration alliance, including a new HP LeftHand iSCSI storage-area network (SAN) virtual appliance for Microsoft Hyper-V and storage management integration with System Center.
HP and Microsoft have pledged to spend $250 million for collaborative research and development, engineering, hiring salespeople and creating new incentives for channel partners. The deal was announced Wednesday in a webcast with CEOs Mark Hurd of HP and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, similarly to the way the CEOs of Cisco Systems Inc., EMC Corp. and VMware Corp. hailed their own Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition in November. The HP-Microsoft deal is widely seen as an answer to VCE and other recent competitive alliances.
HP and Microsoft already have product integrations on the market, including bundles for supporting server virtualization with Hyper-V, HP Insight Control for Microsoft System Center (a version of HP's server management software that integrates with Microsoft's management console), and virtualization assessment, planning and implementation services.
Jeff Carlat, HP's director of marketing for blade servers and infrastructure software, said plans call for the LeftHand virtual storage appliance for Hyper-V within a year. HP LeftHand already has a virtual storage appliance for VMware, which is the chief rival to Microsoft's Hyper-V. Carlat said other developments expected in the next year include deeper integration between Insight Control and System Center, and new bundles to support Microsoft applications, including SQL data warehousing and Exchange email services.
LeftHand launched a VMware version of its Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA) before its acquisition by HP. The virtual product can be deployed to pool direct-attached storage (DAS) inside physical servers so that it can be shared by multiple virtual servers as a SAN.
Carlat said integration between Insight Control and System Center would be extended to focus on adding more data storage management features to the existing server management capabilities. "We're on a path to deliver a common roadmap in the area of storage management," he said. Earlier this month, HP instituted new licensing requirements for HP Insight Control for Microsoft System Center.
Market landscape continues to shift
IT vendors have been creating alliances like this in recent months with the goal of creating stacks of components that eliminate deployment and purchasing complexity for customers. The most prominent storage partnership is the VCE alliance of Cisco, EMC and VMware, and the Acadia joint venture between Cisco and EMC. Other recently launched IT alliances and stacks include relationships between Dell Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc.; Brocade and Oracle Corp.; Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc.; and IBM's Smart Business bundles created from its own portfolio of internally developed and rebranded OEM products.
"We are entering an era where IT stacks matter -- and not just lower level technical ones, but larger, broader, more business-centric, functionality focused ones," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group. Pre-integrated infrastructure packages that are easier to purchase have obvious benefits to customers, but Schulz added, "it's also about vendor account control and stickiness to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for a customer to go elsewhere for parts of their solution."
HP and Microsoft execs insist their alliance isn't a reaction to VCE. "The timeline [for this new alliance agreement] began last April," said Zane Adam, general manager of virtualization and system center tools at Microsoft. "VCE's stacks are infrastructure level. This is much more comprehensive, integrating storage, networking, servers, management stacks and the application. With VCE, the customer still has to build out the applications."
While HP still supports VMware, Hyper-V is now HP's "preferred" virtualization partner, the executives said.
StorageIO Group's Schulz said organizations evaluating these new infrastructure stacks should explore whether they have value rather than focusing only on the risk of vendor lock-in. The configurations may also be more flexible than they initially appear, said he added, but only with careful planning and discussion before the purchase.
"Look at the solutions and in particular the verbiage about how the hardware and software can be repurposed. Would there be any hidden relicensing or recertification fees to do so?" he asked. "In theory, the hardware should not restrict what you're doing or capable of doing. However, dig into the fine print details of how you can use the technology. There's nothing worse than finding out you own something, [but] you can't use it certain ways. That may very well be the new cloudy definition of virtual lock-in."