HP opens up e-mail archiving

Hewlett-Packard Co. has launched into the data and retrieval market with the release of Reference Information Storage System (RISS).

The bundle of software, server and storage hardware for archiving, indexing and retrieving data is based on the Persist technology the company acquired last November. The system itself is being pitched as the first of a series of application-specific information lifecycle management (ILM) offerings, with ERP and databases on the way.

RISS links Persist's archiving technology with HP ProLiant x86-based servers and MSA storage to allow, among other things, e-mails to be archived and indexed. They can be searched, not only by subject line, but also by content. The potential is clear and should appeal to companies developing a compliance strategy.

Since the volume of e-mails (and similar data) stored looks set to grow considerably thanks to legislation, the storage infrastructure behind RISS needs to be able to grow without additional configuration, and to this end RISS is the first to include the storage grid capabilities HP has been working on for several years.

The Persist software digitally signs and timestamps any data it stores. It can also store the data on what are effectively Write Once Read Many or WORM disks. All of these facilities can be used to show that the content of a file or data object has not changed, and so help with compliance needs.

Duplicate copies of data can be avoided, and because queries are executed in parallel, searches complete faster. The search tool is integrated with Microsoft Outlook and can also be used via a browser.

RISS uses open standards including HTTP, SOAP, SMTP, and IMAP4, and data can be archived according to different file characteristics and types. So, for example, attachments from specific e-mail senders could be automatically migrated to the archive and deleted from the recipient's in-box. Myriad e-mail users' .pst files can be consolidated into a central e-mail archive stored in the RISS grid, and so on.

HP to Persist with Compaq technology

Frank Harbist, VP of storage software at HP, said however that while the storage grid technology in RISS is from Persist, the company plans to introduce its own. "As we evolve we'll enhance and improve its capabilities with the institutional knowledge and expertise we've gained from our own virtualization developments," he told us.

He referred here to both the CASA in-band virtualization device already in the market from HP, a technology it gained when it acquired StorageApps in 2001, and to the VersaStor out-of-band technology Compaq Computer Corp. had been developing for a couple of years before it was acquired by HP.

Despite scepticism, HP insisted it would continue with VersaStor when it had already spent almost US$400 million on StorageApps but it has never brought it to market and Harbist admitted there are now no plans to do so. "We had it working in the lab, but it didn't pass the mustard in terms of business viability," he acknowledged. "We took a business decision at the tail end of last year not to bring the product to market based on cost and complexity, and the fact that it wasn't meeting customer needs."

VersaStor was developed to run on intelligent switches by companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc., but Harbist said that, while discussions continue, work is now on a back burner. VersaStor developers were instead redirected to storage grid developments, and RISS is the first product out of the gate. Similar ILM products will be launched for database and ERP archiving, and HP has signed up Princeton Softech Inc. to help deliver them.

With ILM, data is moved to lower-cost media once its access rate has dropped, and so HP will be adding support for other types of media besides SCSI disks. A SATA enclosure will be announced in the third quarter, according to Paul Miller, VP of marketing for industry standard servers, while Serial-Attached SCSI will be added once it becomes generally available at the end of the year. Tape support will also be added shortly.

A base RISS appliance with 4TB of capacity will start at around £250,000 (US$448,575). Specific applications such as e-mail archiving will cost extra.

The application-specific approach echoes what is going on in the rest of the market with more vendors offering virtualized storage systems. Although HP while has chosen this approach for email archiving, it is noticeable that it poohs-poohs the same approach when it comes to intelligent switches.

Of course, it could be that, like Compaq before it, HP was forced to acknowledge that out-of-band virtualization was a more complex undertaking -- a fact underlined by Compaq's failure to deliver the product and Harbist admitting that customers were only lukewarm to VersaStor.

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