HP enters emerging IP-based storage market

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) shed light on its storage strategy Wednesday, saying the time is ripe to begin rolling out products based on recent advances in networked storage technology.

Starting in the first quarter of 2002, HP will begin shipping a variety of storage products centered around the emerging iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) standard for linking data storage systems over Internet Protocol (IP), according to Mark Thompson, worldwide marketing manager for HP's networked storage division.

Many companies currently rely on Fibre Channel or SCSI technology for sending information between storage devices and servers in a SAN (storage area network) environment. The iSCSI standard, however, has garnered wide industry support and should create more options for users looking to link storage boxes with servers. The introduction of the iSCSI standard allows storage devices to connect to existing IP networks, making more information available to more parts of the network. In addition, the use of iSCSI makes it easier for administrators to manage their SAN systems remotely.

HP will not abandon its Fibre Channel business any time soon, but the vendor plans to launch an iSCSI assault early next year, hoping to attract customers who have yet to decide how they will move from a direct-attached to a networked storage architecture.

HP acknowledges that some customers will always feel comfortable dealing with Fibre Channel and will tend toward improvements made with FCIP (Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol) instead of embracing iSCSI. But the company believes that users' familiarity with IP and, in particular, Ethernet technology should make iSCSI products attractive.

"A year ago we had the hypothesis that it was small and medium companies that would go after iSCSI," Thompson said. "But now, we are seeing Fortune 100 companies who get excited about it, along with the smaller companies."

Work is still under way to refine version 1 of the iSCSI specification and make it available by December this year or January 2002. The lack of a finished specification, however, did not stop IBM Corp. from announcing one of the first iSCSI products earlier this year -- the IP Storage 200i appliance. HP claims its broad product line can compete with the top-tier storage vendors like IBM and EMC Corp. and at the same time go up against low-cost storage players like Dell Computer Corp.

Some users praise companies like EMC for providing storage software with a number of management features. Others, however, tend to prefer more basic software that gets the job done at a lower cost. HP claims it can satisfy both sets of customers by either offering products with entry-level software or by boosting the hardware with its OpenView applications.

"At the top level, we will compete with EMC and IBM to offer very high-end, fully functional products," Thompson said. "At the low end, you can also strip things back and compete more directly with a Dell."

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