Hewlett-Packard's next storage move

With an eye toward capturing a chunk of the external storage market now dominated by EMC, Hewlett-Packard yesterday unveiled products that will allow Sun Microsystems' customers to consolidate their storage onto HP systems while still running Sun's Solaris operating system.

The new products include the SureStore E Disk Array XP512 storage solution and a family of storage network management tools, according to David Scott, general manger for extended platform storage at HP.

HP rival Sun Microsystems recently announced its own scalable storage offering for Solaris users called "Purple", which is the pet name for the company's StorEdge T3 disk array. However, HP officials claim that Sun customers looking to scale out from their existing "direct connect" front-end Sun servers, which dominated the majority of the Unix market in the mid-1990s, require more storage in one overall unit than the modular, nine-disk-per-box "Purple" can offer.

"I think Sun's Purple box is representative of the most incredible hyping in the industry," said Scott. "(Sun) is saying Purple is scalable all the way up to 88TB (terabytes), but we did a quick study on that figure and found it would take 247 fibre channel connections to achieve that, which is hard to imagine."

HP sees a $US2 billion market opportunity in Solaris storage consolidation, said Scott. And by attacking such an opening, HP can use a competitive price point to attract Sun customers who otherwise may have gone to EMC for attached storage solutions such as SANs (storage area networks) or NAS (network attached storage), said Scott.

Starting at around $US600,000 per unit and running into the millions depending upon configuration, the HP XP512 is scalable with up to 512 disks, 24 terabytes of memory with 47GB drives, and offers 928 host connects when used in a switched SAN configuration. The unit supports fibre channel, ESCON, and SCSI attachments.

The XP512 also incorporates "Cross-Bar Switch Technology" instead of a bus-based architecture for data throughput. Developed through an agreement with Hitachi, Cross-Bar Switch Technology allows a network to connect along direct paths and link straight from host interface to backend disk interface, allowing for a level of segregation between each application ported to the XP512, according to Scott.

"The result is dramatically faster data throughput," said Scott. "We're finding between two and three times the performance of an EMC Symmetrix 8000 or an IBM Shark."

HP has a three-tier plan with its XP512.

First, attack the Sun customer base of relatively young companies running Solaris-powered front end Unix servers, who find they must consolidate and offload their growing storage pools from the main server network.

Second, target the service provider market and companies that routinely find themselves running multiple operating systems for multiple companies on the same network, which HP claims can be more effectively segregated via the XP512's Cross-Bar Architecture.

Third, go after individual clicks-and-mortar companies looking for enterprise NAS solutions, as the XP512 platform can be configured as a NAS server, mixing NT and UNIX file sharing.

Customers already using EMC or other storage solutions can also use the XP512 to continue to scale outward, according to Scott.

"HP today is in the position that we can go to any customer, whether they're using NT, Linux, AIX or Solaris, even if they have EMC installed, we can now manage both HP and (the others) in a customer's environment, so you don't have to throw everything away and start from scratch," said Scott.

Working with Veritas Software, HP is also offering clustering and backup architectures for the XP512 on the Solaris operating system. Veritas was also a partner in Sun's re cent launch of "Purple".

HP has also re-tuned many of its existing SAN management applications for the Solaris operating system, adding more multi-vendor support features including online auto discovery of storage and fabric devices in a SAN, developer kits that allow device vendors to write their own device managers, and interoperability with network components from Brokade and Anchor.

HP also believes it can beat EMC in the arena of price.

"If (EMC) thinks they have a customer locked up, they tend to charge them to the heavens," said Scott.

But Nick Allen, the vice president and research director for storage issues at Gartner, sees a balance between what EMC charges for storage and the priorities of those companies who choose to use EMC equipment.

"Who has the best micro-code, and who has the best product development? It's EMC. And who does the best job of testing all the available servers on their boxes? It's EMC," said Allen.

"Along time ago, they used to say, 'You can never lose your job if you buy IBM," said Allen. "Well, EMC has displaced IBM in that sense."

And even though Allen believes that competition such as yesterday's HP storage move could begin to offer alternatives to companies that have felt bound to one storage solution, he sees the pure growth of the storage arena sustaining EMC for quite some time, regardless of any added market share.

HP's announcement follows a similar storage announcement last week from Compaq and IBM, in which the two companies pledged to combine their storage resources to also attack EMC's hold on the attached storage market.

Dan Neel is an InfoWorld reporter

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