HP airs data center makeover plan

Server, software, services aimed at energy efficient, virtualized data centers

HP Monday is set to unveil server, software and service offerings that it says can help organizations transform expensive, underutilized data centers into virtualized, energy-efficient facilities that support business needs as they change.

The company, which is making these product announcements at its Technology@Work 2007 conference in Spain, is playing up its own experience of scaling down 85 data centers into three pairs of redundant, optimized ones, explaining that this enabled it to prep services and products that its customers can now use to consolidate their computing environments and take virtualization management to a new level.

"All of the major vendors are pushing the simplification of IT for their customers," says Mary Turner, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. "HP, which has had a big outsourcing business for some time, is leveraging its knowledge base from customers and its own data center consolidation experiences to say, 'Here is a way to do this that yields results.' Enterprise IT shops today want to hear that type of unified story."

The new HP ProLiant DL785 G5 server is HP’s first x86 machine with eight sockets using AMD’s quad-core processors. The server is targeted at customers looking to use virtualization to consolidate many workloads onto fewer servers.

Among the new service options -- which cover critical facilities planning, data center consolidation and virtual deployments -- is HP's Adaptive Infrastructure as a Service (AIaaS), which represents a new outsourcing model for HP. AIaaS delivers enterprise applications such as SAP and Exchange installed in HP's data centers and managed by HP. In the past, HP offered this type of utility computing model more for things like processing and compute power.

"HP has high performance, high availability computing, power and cooling and a host of other technologies up and working in their data centers," says Jean Bozman, research vice president of the Enterprise Platforms Group at IDC. "By offering use of these optimized environments, HP is giving the customer choices as to how they can adopt next-generation technologies, maybe as a service to start, until they get a handle on the technologies in their environments."

For customers looking to consolidate data centers and virtualize systems on their own, HP has developed a new server called the ProLiant DL785 G5 that's designed to consolidate many workloads onto fewer boxes. Scheduled to ship in May and priced at $17,000, the server will be compatible with virtualization technology from VMware, Oracle and Microsoft, and support Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems. The eight-socket x86 server with quad-core AMD Opteron processors isn't the only product of its kind -- IBM and HPC Systems also offer such boxes -- but industry watchers say virtualization drove HP to add it to its portfolio.(See more details on the server here.)

"Basically, they finally decided there was a large enough market for it. Virtualization is certainly one of the drivers," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata.

HP says the upgraded ProLiant server would provide an energy-efficient alternative to blades, which consume more resources and hike up data center costs. "This is a server that is designed to be used in consolidated and virtualized environments where customers need to scale up applications -- and when a blade infrastructure can't help," says John Bennett, worldwide director of Data Center Transformation Solutions at HP.

Yet to truly optimize next-generation data centers, industry watchers say HP must rely on its software business, which has grown significantly in the past two years thanks to the acquisitions of Mercury Interactive and Opsware. In addition to integrating multiple data center management products with HP Operations Orchestration Software, the company plans later this year to release a plug-in to its Systems Insight Manager (SIM) software that is pre-loaded on HP servers. HP Insight Dynamics - VSE will provide an integrated view of virtual and physical resources, capacity utilization, power consumption and the compatibility of workload assignments, HP says. Industry watchers say this level of detail on data center elements will be required going forward.

"Even three years ago you could get away without multiple systems and tools in the data center being integrated, but when you commit to heavy-duty consolidation, all these more modular elements have to work in concert with each other and require each piece to play its part," says Jonathan Eunice, principal IT adviser at research firm Illuminata. "It is going to be a wild, rough ride for the next couple of years as enterprises try to get a handle on consolidation and virtualization."

HP Insight Dynamics - VSE includes a centralized management console and agents distributed to managed machines that hook into the pre-loaded SIM software. The software learns the patterns of workloads over time and uses that data to help IT managers plot which workloads would be compatible on virtual servers running simultaneously. This capacity-planning tool brings granular details about the environment that IT managers would need to ensure their efforts to consolidate and virtualize systems didn't "blow up in their face," Eunice says.

Not all workloads are created equal nor will they perform optimally when mismatched on the same server or put in a position to compete for virtual resources. Software that gives IT managers the information they need to ensure the flexible environment doesn't get bottlenecked by workflow, energy consumption or dwindling resources will go a long way toward making consolidated, virtual environments a success.

"Virtualization companies show you how you can move workloads around, but it's all point in time and there is no historical data associated with it. This type of capacity technology will help optimize workloads in virtual environments," Eunice adds.

Still HP is not alone in its efforts to take on data center optimization and considering just how heterogeneous enterprise data centers are, the vendor will face much competition in bringing customers over to its vision. For instance, head-to-head competitors IBM, EMC, Microsoft, Sun and even Cisco all have their sights set on delivering next-generation data center products and services. The challenge all will face is in controlling the resources and ensuring the environment can respond as the business demands, industry watchers say.

"These environments are much more complex and more integrated. Blades and virtualization are slamming things together to create integrated resources pools that require vendors to become more comprehensive and more multi-functional because that is the customer's reality." Eunice says. "There will never be one data center vendor that does it all, but the surviving players will be those committed to taking on the immense diversity that will be the reality."

Senior Writer Jon Brodkin contributed to this report.

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