HP has introduced a platform that combines storage and computing in one rack with a single file system and management console, in an effort to help IT departments prepare for the coming onslaught of data.

The HP StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100) is designed for enterprises facing bigger challenges in storage than in computing. Those include Web 2.0 companies such as photo-sharing and social-networking sites, as well as specialised industries such as genetics, oil and gas, said David Roberson, senior vice president and general manager of the StorageWorks division.

Demand for storage is doubling every 18 to 24 months, and within five years, Roberson expects to see a "yottabyte year" when the industry as a whole ships one yottabyte, or 1,000 exabytes, of storage capacity. HP is investing heavily in this area because it sees a big opportunity: Enterprises will be putting much of their focus and spending there in the next two years, Roberson said. Currently, 45 percent of all hard drives in the world, from PCs to datacentres, are sold by HP, he said.

Managing many terabytes of storage is far different from taking care of a few hundred gigabytes on a PC, said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters.

"You reach a point where just the sheer scale of what you're managing becomes the problem," Peters said.

Many vendors are moving toward this kind of platform, including IBM, with its recent acquisition of Israeli startup XIV, and EMC, Peters said. But the ExDS9100 promises to be a good solution because of the care HP is putting into it, he said.

"There's nothing huge, bulk, cheap, easy to use, that's already on the market," Peters said.

The ExDS9100 will help companies scale up their storage and computing capacity and more easily manage that capacity, according to HP. Today, in organisations with large amounts of data, it may take several administrators to manage one petabyte of data. HP wants to turn that around so a single administrator can manage several petabytes, Roberson said.

The platform consists of an HP BladeSystem chassis with room for 16 blade servers, in a rack that also accommodates storage controllers and high-density "storage blocks" with as many as 82 hard drives. A base configuration will consist of four blade servers and three storage blocks, with 246TB of storage. Customers will be able to add either type of capacity independently of the other. One rack will hold as much as 820TB, but an extra rack of storage can be added for a total of 1.64 petabytes.

Applications that access the storage will run directly on the blade servers, taking advantage of HP file-clustering software. This eliminates a tier of software, according to HP. Both servers and storage can be managed through one management console. In addition, the high density of the platform allows for efficient use of space, cooling and power, according to HP.

The ExDS9100 is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter. HP predicts it will cost less than $2 per gigabyte in a typical configuration.