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HP goes on the offensive, page 2

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.

Continued from HP goes on the offensive, page 1.

RISS keeps rolling; users want WAN optimization

HP announced RISS 1.5 in April, adding the first significant new features to the product since its launch two years ago. The new version, shipping next week, offers higher capacity "smart cells" and block-level single instance storage. (See also HP revamps RISS, unveils new archiving products, April 24.) But, according to Harbist, while the RISS (Reference Information Storage System) is shipping with the block-level dedupe capabilities, the RIM (Reference Information Management) application modules that will allow users to make it work with their applications have yet to be updated. The first of these, RIM for files, will ship around September, he said, followed by RIM for messaging and RIM for database "in that order."

Randy Fontana, technical architect for Fidelity Information Services, an affiliate of Fidelity National Financial, said his company had considered several other archiving platforms for messaging, including EMC's EmailXtender and Veritas Corp.'s Enterprise Vault but went with RISS because "it wasn't built on a database, and so it was more scalable," Fontana said. He said he was most excited about the increase in capacity for the "SmartCells" that make up RISS from 800 GB to 1.5 terabytes (TB) and that he was also looking forward to the block-level deduplication, though it would be difficult to estimate what his cost and space savings might be.

Schultz had estimated that the new block-level dedupe would mean that 1TB of physical drive space could house 4 TB of information, but Fontana said it would depend on the types of files being stored, the nature of the business and that he currently has no way of putting together a cohesive report on how many users touch a particular piece of data, so it would be difficult to make a comparison.

There were two areas, Fontana said, where he has been asking HP to improve RISS further: search capabilities and WAN throttling.

Where search is concerned, Fontana said he wanted users to be able to create a workflow by saving a search, which is currently possible, and set access controls, which is also currently possible, but then creating an overall project in which "for example, a lawyer could perform an initial search but then have his paralegals refine it, and the entire project could be tracked." Right now, Fontana said, "you can kind of improvise it," but it isn't an included feature.

Fidelity keeps a second RISS off site for replication purposes, and Fontana said that allowing the application or RISS box to prioritize quality of service on that replication would be a dream, "rather than having to use quality of service on switches, which aren't as intelligent about what data should get priority."

The need for WAN optimization was echoed by Machols, though he said he doesn't use RISS. But for his EVA5000 and 8000 arrays, he said, "I'd like to see something like what appliance-to-appliance replication vendors are doing in terms of prioritization, WAN traffic throttling and compression of data before it goes over the wire, but I don't want to have to buy a separate $200,000 box to get that done."

Right now, he said, "HP's replication functions work beautifully within the data center, but they don't have a real solid presence with long-distance replication."

HP representatives also said such a product is on the roadmap. Fontana said he had been assured by HP that such a product is planned, though neither HP executives or Fontana would comment about a time frame.

The long view

Ultimately, HP is still working toward the StorageWorks Grid, first announced two years ago. HP executives say they envision an IT environment in which "industry standard hardware" -- i.e., their ProLiant servers in blade form -- are the basis for every storage and server system, and kept in the same chassis. A big step forward for that strategy, they say, was HP's announcement last week of a new server strategy to "blade everything."

According to Kyle Fitze, marketing director, SAN, HP will introduce a storage blade at the end of this year, with six disk drives that can be put in a blade enclosure next to a server.

"Eventually, you won't see discrete devices in the environment at all," Fitze said. "You can look at a storage array as a service running over the hardware, whether it's RAID or provisioned volumes. Eventually, those functions will all be services running on different parts of the bladed grid, performing NAS services or SAN services or file system services."

Schultz said the grid has already appeared in RISS, HP's Medical Archiving System and will next be involved in an overhaul of the Virtual Library System, HP's virtual tape offering. "Anywhere you have a lot of bulk storage is what we're looking at for the grid," he said.

The grid seems to be taking on more substance than when a struggling HP first announced it, but it's still not clear users fully understand it or see the need for it yet.

"All the current offerings they have more than meet my needs," said Eric Jonland, senior network administrator for Perini Corp., Buildings Division, based in Phoenix, Ariz. "I don't know that I'm a big enough customer to really be pushing the edge of their products."

"This kind of thing is interesting to talk about, but it's not necessarily applicable to large numbers of customers," said Steve Rainey, a systems administrator for Teekay Shipping Corp.

"I think customers have less and less time to evaluate new technologies or think that far down the road," noted Dianne MacAdam, analyst with the Clipper Group. "The users I talk to say they are just barely treading water, and it's worse now than it's ever been."

On the other end, HP also says it is working to bring its products and services further downmarket -- executives hinted at low-end NAS, small and mid-sized business services and an MSA (Modular Smart Array) product refresh to come this year. The MSA refresh, according to Fitze, "will involve more plug and play functionality, more scripts and wizards, and first-time configuration automation."

More automation and more wizards are HP's answer to the "treading water" quandary described by MacAdam, Schultz said. "The first step toward a more efficient environment is to eliminate tasks," he added.

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