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HP goes on the offensive

HP is putting all the pieces of its recent product refreshes together, pushing its Storage Essentials product, refining RISS and making progress toward the StorageWorks Grid.

LAS VEGAS -- Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has emerged from the "Carly Era," the Compaq integration, and an overhauled storage portfolio. Now it's just a matter of putting it all together. And the keys to that, according to users and HP officials at the HP Americas StorageWorks conference this week, will be the Storage Essentials software acquired with AppIQ Inc. last year and the SMI-S standards it's based on.

"We're shifting into attack mode," said Frank Harbist, vice president and general manager, information lifecycle management and storage software, StorageWorks Division for HP. Harbist said the company has gone from re-evaluation and regrouping through several large storage announcements in the last year and a half to pulling together all the pieces into a more cohesive vision, "and the tip of the spear is software."

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Specifically, the Storage Essentials products that were incorporated into HP's OpenView software following the acquisition of AppIQ last September. The product, shipping since January, is currently able to report on the layout of a user's storage systems and the health of those systems, and is able to do provisioning on HP storage. But according to Harbist, HP is itching to add more capabilities to the software that will allow it to sink its teeth into storage, from carving out LUNs on any vendor's systems to reconfiguring those systems for patch management, firmware upgrades and software updates.

"Today, we can passively pass information back and forth," Harbist said. "In the future we will be more active. There will be an announcement as early as this fall to demonstrate that."

The challenges, Harbist said, "have to do with the robustness of the standards in the industry. These things are evolving -- and it's the underpinning of all our initiatives."

Customers weigh in

"We don't have a dedicated storage area network (SAN) staff," said Jeff Machols, systems integration manager for benefits provider CitiStreet, a subsidiary of CitiGroup and State Street. "We have a bunch of Unix and database administrators, who are being asked to carve out their own storage, zone switches, things like that. Our rollout of Storage Essentials has made that much easier -- we can provision and let everyone approve the provisioning easily through the interface."

Where there's room for improvement, Machols said, is in the automation of the services Storage Essentials currently controls.

"I want it to understand if I'm growing at 5% a month, and if I jump to 20%, I want it to let me know that without me having to do the calculations myself," he said. "Did my backup job grow by 80% today? I want to know about that. If I'm at 10,000 I/O per second on Monday and it goes to 30,000 on Tuesday, I want it to tell me that, without me having to code all those thresholds."

According to Harbist, as well as keynote speeches by Bob Schultz and Ann Livermore during the conference, automation is definitely on the roadmap.

"Eventually, our goal is to let the infrastructure automatically redeploy resources in a grid architecture, as well as perform automatic change and configuration management," Livermore said.

HP's director of network attached storage (NAS) Harry Baeverstad said the NAS division would be extending Application Storage Manager, which currently has a wizard to migrate Exchange from direct attached storage (DAS) to NAS, to allow similar automation for the configuration of other functions like backup, snapshots and mirroring. "We'll be ready to be more specific later this year," he said.

According to Schultz and Harbist, another goal for Storage Essentials is to move it "up the stack" and make it manage servers and networks.

"Imagine being able to look at your entire IT infrastructure from the application, through the client, through the network, through the storage, all the way to the backup and also be automating processes throughout that infrastructure," Schultz said.

Machols also said HP could not move fast enough to integrate better with other vendors' products. "It would be a huge competitive advantage to be the driver of getting the big boys to develop standards," he said. "And acquiring AppIQ was a great step -- now they just have to take advantage of it."

That interoperability could extend to other HP software, too, users say. "Right now we try to stay as HP-centric as possible in our whole environment, because we rely on Systems Insight Manager for servers," according to Patrick Frith, systems manager for Optimus Corp. a subcontractor managing IT for the Federal Aviation Administration. "With non-HP servers, we can connect and monitor the health of the box, but we have to go through the server's own console to fix them."

Wilson David, systems administrator for T-Mobile, who uses both an HP XP12000 array and an EMC Corp.'s DMX-3000, said he still prefers to use a separate tool, EMC's TimeFinder, to manage his EMC storage, because it allows him to manage in "device groups" and establish "splits" or mirroring relationships between them.

"I don't even really know much about Storage Essentials," he said. "We're still just playing around with it."

Many other users at the show said they were also still in the testing stage with Storage Essentials but were interested in putting it through its paces. "Even though I only am supposed to really be in charge of backups, I still get calls from management just asking generally, 'what's going on?' " said Larry Taylor, backup lead for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "As long as it's standards-based. I have mostly HP equipment in my shop anyway but just to have one way of doing things, regardless of the vendor or the type of technology, would be perfect."

"I hear this from customers all the time," said James Cook, a storage consultant with C & I Federal, the consulting arm of HP's services division, who works with Taylor to design and manage his storage environment and manages the accounts of several other customers. "They're looking for more vendor interaction. They say, yeah, you work to some extent on some things -- I want it all to work."

Meanwhile, things continue to shift on the SMI-S front, as Sun Microsystems Inc. announced Tuesday that it has withdrawn from the Aperi open source storage management initiative started by IBM in Oct. 2005, citing a lack of commitment on IBM's part for true collaboration. (See Sun quits IBM-backed standards group, Aperi, June 22.)

"It's like chess, where the moves we're making right now are part of a series to achieve a goal," said Schultz, adding that he was confident the current initiative to "take SMI-S to the next level" would be successful. "You now have 50% of the storage software market players in this consortium," he said.

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