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HP fills in gaps with product updates

HP announced updates to several of its products, but analysts are wondering what its ultimate strategy will be for storage virtualization.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) announced a package of product updates that include a new preassembled bundle of its EVA arrays and PolyServe Inc.'s clustered filesystem gateway, a rebranding of Cisco Systems Inc.'s blade switch, a refresh of the DL585 network attached storage (NAS) system and the addition of encryption to its Data Protector backup product.

"It's an incremental announcement," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group. For example, he noted, PolyServe and HP have had a long-standing partnership, and the new bundle, which will be available on March 1, is no different technically than the ones users can already assemble themselves with the two products purchased separately.

However, Taneja said, the bundle, which will be connected, optimized and tested in the HP factory, will probably be very useful for customers looking to deploy the system, regardless of the fact that the technology is not new.

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"It may sound trivial, but clustered file systems are inherently more difficult to understand and deploy than regular NAS boxes," Taneja said, describing them as "designed by nerds for nerds."

The bundle will package a two-node NAS cluster from PolyServe with the EVA4000, EVA6000 or EVA8000 for a starting price of $90,000. The cost isn't substantially lower -- the company lists the price at about 14% lower than buying separately. "It's really more of an impact on customer's time," said Harry Baeverstad, director of NAS at HP.

Taneja said that the time factor could have an impact on the product's appeal. "When PolyServe first started, it took them a while to realize that they needed to do things to make their product more appealing for the mass market until they dressed things up as an 'out-of-the-box' NAS experience," he said. "HP may see similar results with this."

The package provides some level of file virtualization, as the clustered NAS heads share a filesystem and present a filesystem interface over a block back end, Taneja said. But where HP needs to catch up to its competitors is with virtualizing existing NAS systems, he said.

"Right now, HP has no good way of virtualizing individual, existing NAS boxes, even if they're all HP," Taneja said, comparing HP's offerings to those of EMC Corp., which has a file virtualization product from its acquisition of Rainfinity Inc. in 2005, and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), which licenses its Virtual File Manager (VFM) from NuView Systems Inc. NuView was acquired last year by Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

HP's ultimate virtualization direction unclear

Also on the NAS front, HP has introduced the ProLiant DL585 G2 Storage Server, a second version of its DL585 Windows NAS gateway, which adds AMD 64-bit dual-core Opteron processors and has updated software based on Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 (WUDS). Dell Inc. is selling WUDS as a full NAS/IP SAN box with SAS disks included, but HP will be offering it as an iSCSI and NAS connectivity option, and leaving the full-fledged multiprotocol storage capabilities to its All-in-One entry-level system announced last September. The DL575 G2 Storage Server will be available on Feb. 12 at a list price of $18,687.

"What's interesting to me about this announcement in general is that it involves a lot of investment in products as gateways to fill in the gaps in their product portfolio," said Dianne McAdam, analyst with the Clipper Group.

But when it comes to storage virtualization, McAdam said, "I will be more interested to see how HP's ultimate virtualization strategy will play out" beyond gateways. There has been some talk about HP working to integrate server and storage management in general, and McAdam said that could have interesting implications for virtualization if it works out.

HP has also partnered with Hitachi Data Systems and rebranded its NSC55 diskless storage controller as the HP Storage Virtualization System (SVS200). The product isn't exactly network-based virtualization, but without disks included, the controller performs the same function as multivendor arrays for heterogeneous data migration between systems.

Meanwhile, HP has also announced a "blade everything" strategy and the goal of creating what it calls the adaptive infrastructure. "HP StorageWorks is devoting more effort to technologies that deliver integrated virtualization and is working with the rest of HP to deliver the adaptive infrastructure, which will provide complete IT utility virtualization," the company wrote in one of its whitepapers. The company was one of the first into the storage virtualization fray with a product called HP Continuous Access Storage Appliance, which came from its acquisition of StorageApps in 2001. But the product never went anywhere because EMC sued and won a patent infringement case against the technology.

"There's a lot HP still needs to do," Taneja said. "They're not quite as solid as they could be on their overall storage virtualization program yet."

Encryption within Data Protector, Cisco blade switch

On the heels of a recent announcement by Symantec Corp. that it has added encryption to its NetBackup product, with this release HP also added the option of AES 256-bit encryption within its Data Protector backup software.

The encryption option that HP said was developed internally, is software based, which typically has more of an effect on performance than hardware-based approaches. Baeverstad acknowledged that the performance hit is estimated at about 5% to 10% per server.

The option encrypts data over the wire between the backup server and tape backup targets, as well as while it's stored on tape. Hardware-based appliances, such as NetApp subsidiary Decru Inc.'s DataFort, can be used to encrypt data on primary storage, as well as in the backup infrastructure, but are far more expensive than HP's backup software module, which is priced at $2,950 for a 10-client license and at $490 for each individual client. The option will be available in February 2007.

Rounding out the product announcements from HP is the Cisco MDS 9124e Fabric Switch for HP c-Class BladeSystem, a joint offering with Cisco of a fabric switch that plugs directly into the BladeSystem chassis without requiring individual connections to each blade. "Previously, there has been lots of cabling and wiring involved with blade switches, which almost defeats the purpose of the BladeSystem," Baeverstad said.

The 9124e is compatible with Cisco's MDS9000 series directors and also can be managed using HP's ProLiant Essentials, Server Essentials and Storage Essentials software with this integration. The product will be available March 1; estimated list price is $5,999 for a 12-port model and $9,500 for a 24-port version.

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