HP lays down the storage gauntlet

Von Mario Apicella

Is it just me or has HP taken a more determined and assertive attitude lately? I"ve been overwhelmed by the number of new and different products the company has been putting on the market in the last few months -- and I"m only looking at storage.

The timing of this renewed self-confidence could suggest a positive reaction to the end of the Fiorina era. It"s easy to speculate that the departure of that rather intrusive CEO had the same effect as uncorking a bottle of champagne, giving more fizz to the actions of departmental managers.

Perhaps HP also is enjoying being the only U.S. company left that offers just about any type of computer? Arguably, IBM"s surrendering of its PC business to Lenovo could open new, reassuring opportunities for HP (and others) on that front.

Whatever the reason, lately I see HP as more committed to complete -- with proper software -- its extensive hardware portfolio. I"ll suggest some examples shortly, but first let me mention some of the products in the recent downpour of announcements that HP unleashed at Storage Networking World Europe in Frankfurt, Germany.

The company packed together several mostly unrelated offerings centered largely around data protection. StorageWorks VLS 6840, the latest model of a recently launched virtual tape library, features larger capacity and faster backup and restore performance. HP also disclosed the Data Protection Storage Server at the show, essentially a ProLiant machine bundled with Microsoft Data Protection Manager and Windows Storage Server 2003.

These are but two interesting products. Another one, a completely new electronic vaulting service, is also sure to pique the interest of customers.

"We are basically taking the process of vaulting to the digital age," says Thomas Goepel, worldwide business strategy and portfolio manager for HP StorageWorks Services.

Vaulting involves moving backups to a secure location -- always a good idea.

"We take customers" information in a compressed and encrypted format and transfer it over a network connection into an HP recovery center," Goepel explains, adding that HP"s electronic vaulting service requires installing a local appliance but no local agents to clutter customers" production servers.

Moreover, he says, its policy-driven data-reduction techniques ensure that the electronic vaulting service works well with limited bandwidth -- even over dial-up connections.

This sounds like a safer approach than sending out a bunch of non-encrypted tapes every day on a truck. Furthermore, recovering files from the local appliance should be a snap, according to HP.

The last part of my conversation with HP focused on two products in the ILM (information lifecycle management) sphere that are capable of moving both files and database records to less-expensive secondary storage sites. HP"s competitors (and the market in general) have been extremely vocal about this emerging storage segment. Now HP has its own ILM war cry, but although it is relatively easy to design an application that moves files to a less-expensive tier of storage, doing the same with databases isn"t so simple. HP has its Windows-only (for now, at least) File Migration Agent, and has also entered into a deal that involves what"s probably the best data-migration software for databases: the Application Data Management Suite from OuterBay Technologies. A worldwide reseller agreement with that vendor gives HP the right to sell OuterBay"s robust ILM suite under the StorageWorks RIM (Reference Information Manager) for Databases name.

After talking for only a few minutes to Michael Howard, CEO of OuterBay, it"s easy to understand why HP chose this company.

"We identify closed, inactive business transactions in databases either for custom-built or packaged applications like SAP, Oracle, or PeopleSoft," says Howard. "We then relocate that closed, inactive information from databases onto a less expensive storage infrastructure."

It"s probably the most effective definition of ILM I"ve heard.

Howard doesn"t abandon for a second his subdued, matter-of-fact tone of voice. "At the same time, we retain user and application transparency to that information," he says. Some of the benefits of the suite include higher performance, increased stability, less expensive storage infrastructure, and the ability to safely store inactive business transactions offline, he adds.

OuterBay"s powerful suite is an ideal fit for software-starved products from HP, and the agreement makes it possible to offer a complete, ILM-savvy infrastructure comprehensive of servers, various tiers of storage, and management applications.

Perhaps the best news for customers is that there is now another powerful outlet selling ILM-capable solutions, which extends competition -- a development obviously good for the bottom line.

Now if only I could persuade HP to announce only a few products at a time instead of opening the fire hose all at once.