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HP sorts out blade storage strategy

HP scraps plans for a backup blade based on software from FilesX but rolls out a blade version of its AiO storage box. It plans another blade next year based on its low-end VTL.

Hewlett Packard Co. (HP) has sidelined a project announced last year that would have seen FilesX Inc.'s CDP software ported to HP's BladeSystem for disk-to-disk backup. HP instead announced a new networked storage blade based on its All-in-One (AiO) low-end storage box. A disk backup blade based on its low-end virtual tape library (VTL) is due out next year.

Users could technically use the AiO blade, dubbed the AiO SB600c, for backup purposes, but the rest of the functions available with the blade, such as network attached storage (NAS) and iSCSI storage area network (SAN) interfaces, would go to waste, according to Jim Hankins, worldwide marketing manager for the AiO line. "If a customer is looking only for a backup solution for HP's Bladesystem, we would suggest that those customers would be better served by looking into one of the many other HP StorageWorks backup products currently available."

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HP plans to release a disk-to-disk backup blade in 2008 based on the existing D2D110 low-end iSCSI VTL product, a company spokesperson said Wednesday, a move that would mean all of HP's storage blades are based on HP intellectual property. HP declined to comment on the reasons for scrapping the FilesX project and FilesX officials did not return calls by press time.

Another similarity between the AiO and D2D110 is that both products are aimed at the low end of the market, where capacities tend to be smaller, a better fit for blade storage products that are still limited in density. For example, some enterprise users at HP's Technology Forum pointed out that HP's tape blade, which so far works only with LTO-2, is too small in capacity for their liking, and the 1 terabyte (TB) of raw storage capacity available in the AiO blade is far below the rack-mounted version's capacity of 9 TB.

"One TB usable, that is, RAID-protected and -formatted, is actually a reasonable amount of storage, particularly if it is based on multiple drives to actually deliver some level of decent performance," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group. "Strictly from a price-to-capacity standpoint, it's nothing compared to a single 1 TB disk drive or a pair of 750 GB disk drives, but you also get what you pay for."

The capacity of the blade is currently the highest possible using the 2.5-inch small form factor SAS drives available for blades, according to HP's Hankins. RAID configurations from 0 to 5 are available for the blade, which also sets aside just under 30 GB for the operating system. How much usable capacity will come with the AiO will depend on users' choices about which RAID level to deploy. The average usable capacity should be between 600 GB and 800 GB.

The AiO SB600c blade contains eight 146 GB SAS disks. The blade also includes snapshots and replication, and tape backup bundled in via Data Protector Express. The new blade enclosure for the AiO, the c3000, can hold up to 8 half-height servers and up to four of those can be AiO blades, though the blades' capacity cannot be pooled at this point. The AiO blade can also be managed alongside the existing external AiO system using a new "single pane of glass" management console AiO being launched in October.

The enclosure is available for around $8000, and the blade is available starting at $9,968. HP officials said the "break even" point -- the point at which a blade system is more cost-effective than regular rack-mounted servers -- is three to five servers. When the break-even point for bladed storage will come "is debatable right now," Hankins said, though 300 GB small form factor SAS drives are on the horizon. "Sometime in 2008, you will see different capacity points in blade systems," he added.

HP had already released a disk storage blade, the SB40c, last October, but until now it only served as DAS to other blade servers. Users at this summer's HP Technology Forum conference said they were eager to see networked storage added to HP's blade product line, because blade systems offer power and data center space advantages over rack-mounted systems. Use cases at remote offices or for test and development applications that need to be brought up quickly on a limited budget were also identified as targets for this product.

For now, users that want to experiment with an all-blade storage environment can also connect the AiO blade to the Ultrium 448c tape blade announced in June using iSCSI.

HP spills on Polyserve plans

HP executives spilled the beans earlier this week to about the company's roadmap over the next six to 12 months for clustered NAS systems stemming from its acquisition of Polyserve Inc. in February.

According to Ian Duncan, director of marketing for NAS at HP, the Polyserve product currently ships in three configurations: software only, software preloaded onto a cluster of servers and software preloaded on clustered servers and racked with an EVA array. Duncan said HP's intention is to more tightly integrate the Polyserve software with existing HP hardware, such as the DL320s storage server, to create clustered nodes that combine processing power and storage in one package.

In other words, it would be a product that would look much like the server/storage nodes sold by Isilon Systems Inc., which went public late last year after capitalizing on the clustered-NAS market while companies like Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) and HP have been catching up. According to Duncan, there will be differences with HP's NAS system, most of them based around application integration. "We would want to be able to run applications directly on the nodes, because that saves money for the user and provides a significant performance boost when [the application is] directly accessing disk." HP also plans to flex its big-company muscle by integrating with major applications from partners, such as Oracle Corp. and Microsoft.

"NAS historically has been a way to consolidate file servers," Duncan added. "We see that changing, and we see what's important to NAS users changing, as well." Where once the priority for NAS systems was data protection, Duncan said, today the market is focused on throwing more scalable systems at an increasing amount of data. NAS systems are also increasingly being considered for database applications, because NAS shares are more easily provisioned for, and managed by, application administrators.

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