When it comes to utility computing, for Hewlett-Packard Co. the future may already be here, but the customers aren't.
HP, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are locked in battle to provide a new type of management technology for the data center that should make administrators' lives much easier by creating a refined, overall view of all the hardware and software in a network. Armed with such a unified view of their data center, administrators should be able to move applications from server to server with greater ease and free up additional processing power or storage space with the click of a button.
All three vendors admit that their visions for this "virtualization" of the data center, which encompass self-healing hardware, advanced ways to deliver applications and "drag-and-drop" administration will take time to deliver in full, but HP has readied several new software tools that add some reality to its management dream.
The company next week will announce its Adaptive Management Platform to prove that it can provide customers with useful technology today. However, questions remain as to when users will be ready to buy into the management panacea, analysts said.
"I think in terms of specialized virtualization products it's fair to say HP is ahead for now," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, New Hampshire. "However, it's going to be a long time before you see a lot of revenue coming from these types of products."
HP's Adaptive Management Platform combines parts of its HP OpenView management software suite with its Utility Data Center (UDC) technology, which is comprised of its virtualization products.
Ideally, the platform will allow customers to manage their servers and storage systems as if they are part of a single, large computer. As such, users will be able to free up more processing power for a particular application, for example, by instructing the software to go in search of more compute capacity.
At the heart of HP's Adaptive Management Platform is its Utility controller software, which allows users to reallocate processor capacity, bandwidth and storage resources among different applications in their data center, said Nick van der Zweep, director of utility computing at HP.
"You can move resources from a financial system, for example, to a Web retail system with drag-and-drop software," van der Zweep said. "To do that today someone would have to pull the physical server out of a financial system rack and bolt it into the retail one, then load an operating system and load applications. It's a little complicated."
A handful of customers have already been testing the Utility controller software, but HP next week will make it generally available to medium and large businesses, van der Zweep said.
In the next 18 months, HP plans to add more software that fits underneath the Utility controller software and gives administrators more management options, van der Zweep said, although the company is not yet providing specifics of the plan. In addition, HP will continue to tie in its popular OpenView server and storage system management software with the utility computing technology by creating shared views between the two products.
Along with its Adaptive Management Platform, HP next week will announce several new tools for OpenView that begin to build on this long-term vision for data center management. The tools include the following:
-- HP will release its OpenView Network Node Manager 6.4 and Network Node Manager Extended Topology 2.0, which give administrators detailed information on the cause of a server failure and can help predict potential future failures.
-- A new version of the OpenView Web Service Management Engine, with added support for SOAP- (Simple Object Access Protocol) and WSDL- (Web Service Description Language) based transactions, designed to give administrators the ability to block unauthorized transactions and provide a clearer picture of the type of information being processed by an application.
-- HP will also release new HP OpenView Smart Plug-ins (SPIs) that make it possible for OpenView to work with application servers from BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.
All of these software pieces -- both new and old -- build on HP's goal of managing hardware and software from a variety of vendors within a utility computing environment. While HP has a few companies already using existing pieces of the technology, Illuminata's Haff said it will take time for customers to warm to the idea of this style of network management.
"The message people are giving vendors is, 'at this point we have heard the vision, now let's see the products,'" Haff said. "We are just starting to enter the product stage."
While HP may have a lead over its competitors, IBM has released some parts of its autonomic computing technology for monitoring servers and linking them together, and Sun has launched several application provisioning tools. In addition, Sun on Friday acquired virtualization software maker Terraspring Inc. Some of the software from Terraspring is used in HP's utility computing technology, Haff said.
"None of this happens with the flick of a magic switch over night, but it does happen over time," Haff said.