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HP's Livermore outlines storage strategy

Ann Livermore, EVP of HP's Technology Solutions Group, discusses linking IT and business, HP's upcoming products and grid storage.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has endured some rough times of late, and has been criticized for letting some of its storage product lines languish. While still the number two external-storage vendor, according to Gartner Inc., there has been some erosion in HP's market share. The company hopes to blunt the criticism with a raft of product announcements at its user conference in Las Vegas next month. At the recent Storage Networking World conference, Storage magazine editors Rich Castagna and Alex Barrett spent some time with the person ultimately responsible for HP's storage line -- Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group.

Storage: You spoke about synchronizing IT and business, what parts of an enterprise have to align for that to happen?

Livermore: There's always an aspect that's the technology, there's an aspect that's process, innovation or change and there's an aspect that's people change. And shame on all of us who've been in the technology industry for decades because the part that's always underestimated is the people part. In terms of their willingness, readiness to change, to make something happen, their ability to make projects successful or not based on how they feel about it.

It is interesting how often that big technology projects go askew because of the people aspects more than the technology. It's almost never the technology that's the problem. It's always some business process piece that has not been properly planned for as part of the change or the human elements of it. We see that whether it's application migrations, whether it's somebody putting in their first NAS, whether it's blades, whether it's distributed computing and then people trying to pull it in to have it be more centrally managed instead of being out in the business units. It's really interesting how it's almost never the technology.

Storage: Do you think that the technology people, specifically storage people, get the whole idea of synchronization of business and IT?

Livermore: I think that many of the technology people don't get it and the business people don't get it. The piece that's interesting that we see over and over again is that business managers like to generically blame the IT. The business managers are almost always kind of pointing back and generically blaming IT that they're too slow, they can't change things fast enough, they're making their business so it's not competitive. At the heart of it is almost always complexity of the business processes and redundancy of the business process, not the underlying IT. And the underlying IT is typically complex when it's having to support a business process that's not very simple, that's not very standardized and hasn't been made modular.

As we've been doing a lot of work with people who are trying to make their IT more adaptive to change, we walk them through a set of steps around simplification, standardization, making it more modular, having it be the proper level of integration. What you find is that you have to do that to the business process first, then to the application layer, then to the underlying IT. Usually the spaghetti IT systems are supporting spaghetti business processes.

That's the thing that gets kind of interesting. A lot of the IT people don't understand the business process well enough to understand that dependency. A lot of the business people don't understand their own business processes or, in some cases, don't understand the underlying IT well enough to understand what their business processes are doing in terms of the demands to the IT. We've been doing a lot of projects where we do these assessments about how adaptive a business is to change and the very first thing always ends up being some business process that needs simplification as the first step.

Storage: That function has been in IT for a long time, the business analyst. Have the demands changed so drastically that that's not enough?

Livermore: If you think about what business analysts have done, think about the corporations today. When you go to most large corporations today, one of the things that they're trying to get is the right balance between shared business processes and things that are unique inside the company. They all want to share finance and admin, all corporations want to share HR. There are certain functions that corporations want to share across their whole corporation, and then others that might be specific to a function like supply chain or specific to sales or a business unit. This blend of getting those balance points right and understanding the implications for the underlying IT complexity and cost is more than what a business analyst usually can handle, in and of themselves.

Storage: Is that also suggesting that there's a shift away from hardware? That hardware is a commodity and the software tools are the most important aspect?

Livermore: We think that there are aspects of the hardware world that are standardizing, that some people would say are commoditizing as a result of that. But even when you take something like an industry standard server running Windows, there are some things associated with it that customers will pay extra for that aren't standard. The thing we've seen over and over again, our Proliant servers have the number one market share, they've had number one market share in the Windows environment for 36 quarters in a row. And this last quarter, it grew 19% in revenue, 23% in units — it's a great, great business for HP. It is a very industry-standard offering. One of the things that differentiates us and why customers keep buying HP — is the management capabilities. Because management capabilities drive down the total cost of ownership. Management capabilities are differentiators. They don't only have our stuff, they have to manage other stuff, too, so being able to use a single console and from it manage all the HP stuff and also the Dell stuff or the IBM stuff or the Sun stuff — it's a big deal.

Storage: So where is the storage market in relation to that?

Livermore: As we look at it, we think the storage market is going to go through many of the same things that the server market went through. If you look at one of the big areas that customers are investing money in today, it's basic stuff around consolidation, simplification of the environment so that they can get better utilization of their storage assets. It's pretty fundamental, and it's the first step that we think of in terms of simplification of the environment. Then you go to the standardization of the environment, very similar to what people did for servers. Standardization of the environment to understand what both technology standards they want to use but also process standards for how they manage the environment. So [it's] moving to a lot of the same sort of IT service management processes and applying standards to the management of the environment.

There are just three or four characteristics that are going to be really fundamental. It has to be much more modular so that people can easily scale and change their storage environment based on changes in capacity that they need -- changes in performance, changes in resilience, geographic changes. And behind that the storage grid is one of the real technology innovations that enables the modularity. Being able to then move to an environment where storage is managed as a single system, you have a storage grid with all these smart cells but they're managed as a single storage image. And all the power that gives for the simplification of the job of the administrator. For HP we have always prided ourselves with the EVAs, around the simplicity of the storage management, so our EVAs are the simplest midrange arrays to manage. And you stack up the number of our products that can be managed versus anybody else's and it's dramatically better. So you take that same concept and say, OK, I'm going to apply the same kinds of concepts of single system images and take the next generation of storage grid and manage this whole big grid as a single system.

The next really logical step is to be able to treat storage more as a service-oriented architecture — deliver things as services — you can see how it all starts to fit together. The grid, the smart cells, the ability to manage it as a single system — once you can do that you can really do whatever, the nirvana of virtualizing an environment and having a pool of resources. And then you go to the step of really managing it as a service. Then you start getting a pretty interesting environment where you've got these virtualized resources both on the storage side and on the server side and worrying about the security holistically across the servers, the storage, the network.

That's the environment that we see. Part of the reason we're so excited about all of our announcements coming up in May is you'll see stuff from top to bottom with very basic standalone product announcements because that's really important for people who just want to buy products today, but then along the steps that start enabling people to move in this journey to where their storage is going to be modular, managed as single system, delivered as a service and with a lot better security than they have today. So, we think people are kind of going to go "Wow!" at the range of product announcements, the range of technology and the movement that it makes along this journey.

Storage: Is there any contradiction between the service/utility model and the idea of synchronizing IT and business? It seems that by creating this utility, you're creating a commodity of storage that might not require the business/IT link to be so tight.

Livermore: It's going to be interesting to see in the evolution. We believe sometimes the utility-type environment will be managed by the central IT organization for the company. And they'll have the tradeoff -- do they want to manage this utility themselves, delivering service to their end users or they might choose to outsource it, if they believe they can take advantage of a further scale that a service provider could provide to them. And, I don't think it makes it any harder to keep that linkage with the business process because it becomes so much more efficient and responsive to change. If it really does scale faster, if it really is significantly more modular and delivered as a service — those are all things that business process centers love. They love those aspects of it. We don't think it makes it any harder, it just changes how much of the time the business process people spend thinking about the IT and the linkages associate with it.

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