Hewlett-Packard is to offer a slimmed-down version of its Utility Data Centre (UDC) aimed at mid-sized businesses and departmental users.
HP has prototypes of the departmental UDC running in-house and will introduce the smaller-scale offering when UDC version 2.0 is announced later this year, said Nick van der Zweep, HP's director of utility computing in HP's enterprise systems group.
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The smaller UDC is expected to be released as a product sometime in 2004.
The departmental UDC would be priced in the $100,000 range - much less than the $800,000 price tag of HP's existing UDCs - and would most likely be used to manage 30 to 50 systems running a single application.
"We probably will do a sales campaign around specific applications, maybe into the ERP space," said van der Zweep. Manufacturing applications might also be targeted.
Another feature that seems crucial to a departmental UDC is HP's Topology Manager software, which will be partially rolled out in UDC 2.0. It uses the grid computing OGSA (Open Grid Services Architecture) standard to enable UDCs in different locations to share resources and appear as one "virtual data centre", according to van der Zweep.
HP introduced the UDC in November 2001 as a way for companies to consolidate their IT resources. UDC users plug their hardware into an HP "management rack" and then employ server and storage virtualisation software, called the "utility controller", to automatically assign or remove datacentre resources to applications when needed.
In practice, the act of automatically configuring a variety of hardware and applications in this fashion has proved difficult, according to Paul Mason, vice-president of infrastructure at industry research company IDC.
"We're a long way from the point where we can consider this to be something where you can plug it in and it works," he said. "It's just too complicated."
The smaller UDCs might appeal to large organisations looking to deploy the product in different departments, he said. But HP must prove that the UDC concept actually works before it can hope to attract mid-market businesses, Mason added.
"The issue has to do with the believability of the concept, actually persuading people that it will work and that it actually will give them the value that they want," he said.
HP took a step in that direction in announcing that Philips Electronics' semiconductor division had consolidated engineering, office application, and manufacturing datacentres onto one UDC at its site in Holland.
The division has managed to slash its IT costs by more than 40% since it began implementing the UDC in 2001, said Mathieu Clerkx, chief information officer and senior vice-president for supply chain operations at Philips.
But Philips is the first company to announce that it has set up its own UDC, and HP says only about a dozen customers are using the technology right now.
More reference customers will be needed before the UDC concept finds broader acceptance, and it may be some time before the technology has real appeal for smaller customers, Mason said.
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service