Hewlett-Packard has updated its Business Service Automation software in an effort to play a great role in managing the virtual data centre.

HP released updates to two products in the suite, Storage Essentials and Operations Orchestration, and introduced a new subscription service, BSA Essentials, that it said will help keep systems patched and in compliance with auditing standards.

Virtualisation has allowed companies to reduce hardware costs and conserve floor space through server consolidation. But it has also created headaches for large organisations that are struggling to manage hundreds of virtual hosts and their related storage and networking resources, said Bob Meyer, head of HP's virtualization group, in a press briefing at HP's offices.

The update to Storage Essentials means the software can now discover VMware hosts in a network and map out their related storage and storage-area-network dependencies, allowing system administrators to keep track of who is using which resources. It will also track how much capacity assigned to the virtual hosts is actually being used, so that unused storage can be reallocated.

The update is available now for VMware environments and HP is working on a version for Microsoft's Hyper-V. It plans to support Citrix XenServer in the future, though Hyper-V is its first priority after VMware, said Michel Feaster, senior product director for Business Service Automation.

Another challenge for IT departments is the time it takes to provision the storage and networking for virtual servers. A virtual server can be set up relatively quickly, but storage and networking admins are having to spend too much time provisioning other parts of the infrastructure, according to HP.

Its answer is an update to Operations Orchestration, a workflow tool for automating the provisioning of servers and storage. The tool now has templates to guide administrators through the server, network and storage configuration for virtual environments. This should make the process faster and ensure the work is done in a standard way, reducing errors, HP said.

The tool integrates with VMware Virtual Infrastructure, XenServer and HyperV, "so you can automate tasks using the management interfaces provided by those virtualisation vendors," said Kalyan Ramanathan, HP director of product marketing.

Forrester analyst Glenn O'Donnell, who was at the HP briefing, agreed that as virtualisation moves from test and development into production use, more automation is required. Otherwise capital savings will be lost through higher operational costs, he said.

"You shouldn't have high-priced network engineers Telnetting into a router doing grunt work; you have to automate it," he said.

Administrators will resist automation because it undermines their role, but it's a necessary change as businesses try to cut costs in today's economy, he said.

HP also introduced a new service called BSA Essentials. HP will monitor clients' systems to see that they comply with internal and external policies, like being up-to-date with security patches or meeting certain security or configuration requirements. The service is billed as a percentage of the software licence fee, HP said.

It also launched the BSA Essentials Community, a website where BSA customers can share best practices and other tips.

The new products mean HP will be able to compete more directly with VMware, which also hopes to play a bigger role in data centre management through its upcoming Virtual Data Centre OS.

"VMware will be in 'coopetition' with HP and everybody else out there," O'Donnell said.