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HP users mull blade storage

HP's "blade everything" strategy is starting to emerge in storage. Users at the HP Technology Forum this week mulled the possibilities for the technology.

LAS VEGAS -- With the introduction of a new tape storage blade from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) this week and the SB40c storage blade announced last fall starting to see user deployment, HP's "blade everything" strategy is edging toward fruition in storage. In the wake of the announcement this week, many users at the HP Technology Forum conference said they were beginning to evaluate the technology for use in certain applications, and most were eager to see a networked version of the disk blade.

One user, Michael J. Kaufman, vice president for Calyon Credit Agricole CIB, a bank headquartered in France, said his company has deployed 2 terabytes (TB) of the direct attached storage (DAS) SB40c blades to support BizTalk and SharePoint applications for an upcoming project to be announced in August. (Kaufman said he couldn't comment further on the nature of the project.) The company is also looking into using storage blades for rapid deployment at a disaster recovery site. "The main advantage is rapid deployment and scalability," he said.

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The blades aren't without their pitfalls. "Heat is still an issue with any blade enclosure," Kaufman said. He also would like to see HP improve its BladeSystem management application. "Once in a while when we have to do firmware upgrades on the chassis, it has dropped the blades from the management application, and we have to bring them back manually."

Kaufman added that he's anxious to see HP add a networked storage blade, as well as full height, denser storage blades. His company doesn't plan to deploy the 448c tape blade HP announced this week because its LTO-2 drives are too small for its purposes.

Eventually, however, Kaufman said he believes there could be such a thing as bladed storage area networks (SAN). "It's still years away, but we're already saving tens of thousands of dollars on rack space, management overhead and power by deploying the blades we have," he said.

Other users said that networked storage blades could be useful at remote offices to replace standalone network attached storage (NAS) servers. "A [bladed] NAS storage server might have value at small and remote locations as a way to get them both power and IP [networking] cheaply," said Brad Allen, systems architect for Texas Instruments. "But there might be a [pricing] premium for the small form factor, which would eliminate that benefit."

"Both the storage blade and tape blade look interesting at first glance, especially for rapid recovery when it comes to DR," said Ron Service, director of MIS for Com Dev, a Canadian satellite manufacturer.

A storage administrator for a large bank, who declined to be named, said his organization was looking at storage blades as networked storage for larger applications. "Anything VMware," he said, which is already on blade servers anyway. "There may also be places for it, like applications, that have to be brought up quickly, but the extra money may not be there."

Some users, meanwhile, remained more skeptical. "There would have to be proof that it could handle throughput in our environment, and we'd have to carefully evaluate whether a storage blade could handle the stress of tiered storage migration," said J.R. Ashby, senior systems engineer for TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

HP executives have hinted that a networked version of the SB40c is coming, but HP chief technologist Hal Woods said it will take fatter network pipes before that happens. "Today's blade enclosures aren't designed to move data in and out at as fast a rate as storage arrays," he said. He added that 8 Gbps Fibre Channel or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) could change all that. "We're headed in that direction of enabling technologies to make it work."

Illuminata Inc. principal IT advisor John Webster said he thought HP would integrate the clustered file system IP it acquired with PolyServe Inc. in June to create networked blade storage. "The issue with a bladed SAN is that if you have the server and storage in that blade chassis, where's the switch [between them]? But it's conceivable the PolyServe software could act like a kind of 'logical switch' between the server and storage layers -- I think that's where HP is going."


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