HP Storage: Back to Basics On Hardware

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We have a single architecture, says HP storage European lead Chris Johnson

Storage leader Chris Johnson thinks HP is re-establishing its credentials as a hardware leader and, in storage at least, is getting past the painful diversions of the past couple of years. 

HP had a disastrous time during 2010 to 2011, with a revolving door for CEOs that spat out Mark Hurd and Leo Apotheker, a strategy that seemed to flip-flop every month or two, and painful acquisitions including Autonomy and Palm. Things have settled down since the late-2011 appointment of Meg Whitman, but the company is still reaping the results of the last couple of years, in the form of massive job cuts.

The official company line now, is that while software and services are essential, hardware remains the main focus point. HP execs are starting to put out a unified message: the company has a unique position as a hardware expert that is open to standards. It also claims a strong ‘number one’ or ‘two’ in plenty of major markets (servers, storage, networks) and can offer a lot in converged systems.

That still leaves HP with its lips flapping frantically over Autonomy. The company’s products extract meaning from unstructured data – and it has been pretty hard to extract meaning from HP’s unstructured marketing messages. It paid way too much for the software, but needs to make the best use it can of it; that leaves Whitman simultaneously simpering about how great the software is while accusing its makers of fraud.

HP Chris johnson

Can we talk about hardware?

HP’s divisions don’t talk about that. We met Chris Johnson, the EMEA vice president of storage at HP; of course we asked him about Autonomy. And of course he told us it’s all great.

“The Autonomy technology is being used all over the business. As we go forward we will integrate Autonomy more and more,” he says. In storage, he hopes Autonomy will automatically archive data according to how useful it is. 

But what he really wants to talk about is hardware. After running us through storage acquisitions like 3Par, Ibrix and LeftHand, he waxes lyrical on hardware generally.

“We are a leading server and PC vendor, and on the network side, having bought 3Com, we are number two after Cisco – and the only vendor growing market share,” he said.

“In storage, we are number two after EMC, and by far the leading disk storage vendor worldwide, thanks to all those servers and PCs,” he continues. “And we are innovating in our converged storage strategy.”

“VMware talks about software defined data centres, but fundamentally we see the need for great hardware for any kind of data centre in the future. If you make a converged infrastructure, you need all these assets to be tightly coupled,” tells us Johnson.

Cisco can’t match that, he says, because they rule in networks, but their  servers and storage come through partners. Similarly EMC is a storage gorilla, but has to partner with Lenovo on servers: “Partners are not as good as an internal approach.”

By 2016, HP believes that a third of data centre spending will be on converged systems, and this means CIOs will have to decide: “Customers don’t want to be integrators, they won’t want to buy this switch from Cisco and that server from IBM. [Analyst] IDC says style=”font-size: 13px; line-height: 19px;”>they will buy from a single vendor, whoever that may be.”

Oracle, of course, presents itself as a single vendor stack, but that’s integrated down from the software application and represents a proprietary lock-in, says Johnson. By contrast, HP can be a single-vendor solution  which is still open.

“Oracle says ‘buy our hardware because it is thightly integrated with our software to give better performance’. Maybe, maybe not, but how flexible is that going forward?” he asks. “All our stuff is built on an ISS [industry standard server] building blocks. We absolutely guarantee that if customers buy into this model and then feel for some reason that our storage is not going in the right direction, then they can swap in storage from EMC or whoever.”

In storage, he thinks people will stay with HP, because it is innovating, and it offers a bunch of guarantees. “We guarantee that with 3Par storage and an HP server, you can double the number of VMware virtual machines on your server, compared with any other vendor.” Similarly, HP’s network strength lets it define “Flat SAN”, which is more high powered than a regular SAN.

HP’s cloud approach is equally open, based on OpenStack: “It  allows us to provide public cloud and private cloud, optimising management, orchestration and provisioning,” he says, adding that of course VMware’s Vsphere is supported: “We are their largest engineering partner.” 

Integrating legacy storage

The storage story is about reducing the number of architectures, which have burgeoned since the age of mainframes. “Some of these architectures have been around for 20 years. There are ten different architectures in EMC alone.”

HP has got it down to  two architectures, he claims, one for primary storage and one for back up – adding that this simplification means innovations can be rolled out more quickly. This point is important, because things are now changing more quickly: “Mainframe workloads were pretty static, but virtualisation came along and  had an impact on servers, but also on the storage and the network.”

HP’s two architectures are the StoreServ range from 3Par for primary storage – which HP is pushing all the way from enterprises right down to tiny firms – and StoreOnce for backup (which he says backs up three times faster than the main rival Data Domain, and restores five times faster). 

In primary storage, HP guarantees that mainframe storage put into a 3Par environment will have a 50 percent reduction: “If a customer dsicovers they did not get this, we provide the additional storage. We have never had to pay out on that.”

For long term data that needs mining, HP has StoreAll within StoreOnce, which allows big data analytics on the archive. “StoreOnce and StoreAll are the same software,” he says. 

The green side of storage

Storage can take a lead in cutting wasted energy, says Johnson, primarily by deduplicating – so less storage is wasted. “At some point we have to get more efficient with storage or there won’t be enough power on the planet to keep the disks spinning,” he says. “We want to drastically reduce the amount of data which has to be stored.” 

How’s that going to happen? Well, cutting out wasted storage, and putting data in the best receptacle requires you to understand the data.. and, you’ve guessed, HP believes Autonomy is the way to do this.

“If we could identify that 99 percent of our emails have no connection with the business proceess, we can store them on cheaper disks, with lower compliance requirements. This way we can massively redeuce the amount of storage in the organisation,” he says.

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