Hewlett-Packard is changing its focus. Instead of pushing out more storage capacity, the supplier is helping users to squeeze better value from the capacity they already have. Paul Kunert reports from HP's Ensa@Work conference in Amsterdam
Enterprise storage has been prescribed too much and companies that ploughed money into large systems with massive capacity have not, in a significant number of cases, realised an return on investment.
This frank admission from Hewlett-Packard may come as some surprise, given that HP is one of the many companies that helped to create this predicament. But HP is now casting itself in the role of industry doctor, delivering technologies that help hard-pressed users handle their storage problems more effectively.
Given the state of the global economy, it is hardly surprising that HP's mantra at last month's Enterprise Network Storage Architecture @ Work (Ensa@Work) event in Amsterdam was squeezing value for money out of existing technology investments, and building and paying for systems on a modular basis as companies grow. The message "controlling the cost of your IT infrastructures" permeated the whole event which - in its sixth year - has evolved from a storage-only show to unite various strands of HP's enterprise divisions.
In a keynote speech, HP president and CEO Carly Fiorina claimed businesses were focused on "something more practical and more fundamental".
She suggested harsh economic reality had struck home and businesses wanted real value for money. "How do I [as a customer] make sure that I can live with not just the initial cost, but the ongoing costs, of owning and operating technology?"
Brad Anderson, HP vice-president for servers, storage and infrastructure, said customers were demanding "better utilisation of assets".
"We are delivering products and services that enable you to do that," he said. "With our blade servers we are offering Proliant software management tools that allow you to rapidly and consistently deploy operating systems and applications on your system. Cost-saving tools are common to all our products, so customers don't have to invest in specialist tools that work only in a limited set of platforms - with our products, you can manage a remote resource centrally."
Anderson said consolidation had been a feature of customer environments since 2000, and that HP had selectively picked technology and driven products with more "adaptive infrastructure capabilities".
"Some customers are growing and need to know how to adapt [technology] rapidly - others have bought too much," he added.
Howard Elias, senior vice-president and general manager for network storage solutions, conceded that customers had had their fingers burned by the industry when they bought large systems they were told they would grow into.
He said that as a result, customers were more "sensitive" and had changed their buying patterns, seeking to adopt a modular approach and build their IT infrastructures one step at a time.
"Up to this point, customers spent what they budgeted - now they don't necessarily spend the whole budget," he said. "Their demands are for more measurable and demonstrable return on investment."
But Elias believes that the ROI from storage area network investments has grown and that average storage use rates have ballooned from 30% two years ago to 60%.
Bob Shultz, vice-president of marketing for HP network storage solutions, said that in an attempt to help businesses better use their storage systems and IT infrastructures, HP had become the first company to "articulate an architecture for network-based virtualisation".
"Sans continue to grow in adoption and are growing in size, so we are looking at how to simplify their management and [improve] utilisation," he said. "Businesses want a resource pool that they can share and reallocate, and they are looking for heterogeneous connectivity."
Schultz added that although dealers were familiar with the term "network-based virtualisation", they lacked experience with the products - a problem HP that would remedy with channel training projects.
Ever since budgets have become strained, the glue of the storage market and the key to efficient systems has been software.
Anton Knolmar, HP's director of channel marketing for global software business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, claimed he had heard of instances where companies were using storage devices "as a desk or a chair".
"They can't deploy because they don't need that much capacity - a lot of companies have invested in hardware since Y2K," he said.
But Knolmar suggested it was not just storage devices that were being under-used. "Value comes if you manage the entire IT infrastructure - systems, servers, applications, web services and data storage."
One innovation to help on this front has been the introduction last November of adaptive management. The process allows businesses to use heterogeneous infrastructure resources in their enterprises, and is designed to save money through efficient management of networks in response to user analysis.
There is certainly a growing need for technology to deliver on its promises. Almost 4,000 people attended the HP event, which goes to show that, in the current tight economic conditions, storage and enterprise computing remain hot topics.
HP storage developments
HP has delivered architecture for implementing network-based storage virtualisation. This concept is designed to simplify storage management, improve storage use and allow storage services across heterogeneous environments through their enhanced virtualisation
In collaboration with Brocade, HP will deploy Versastor virtualisation technology with the Brocade Silkworm Fabric application platform, which the supplier claimed would enable greater levels of scalability and performance in heterogeneous storage environments
At the Ensa@Work event, HP established a heterogeneous San with more than 1,000 ports. Made up of 10 different operating systems running on 15 different server hardware platforms, the open San showcase could provide technology for future adaptive IT infrastructures
HP and Microsoft have expanded their global relationship to further their presence in the worldwide network attached storage (Nas) market, through their Storageworks and Windows-powered Nas systems. These systems are optimised, function-focused, file and data servers based on the software giant's technology.
HP server launches
HP announced that it has released a four-processor blade server. The introduction of the Proliant BL40p server means the supplier has one-, two- and four-processor systems, enabling datacentres, service providers and telecommunications companies to build complete multi-tiered environments using blade servers
Last month also saw the unveiling of HP's latest and most powerful Alphaserver system to date. The HP Alphaserver GS1280 is based on the EV7 Alpha processor and, according to the supplier, will provide customers with performance, scalability, reliability, manageability and availability.