HP is on a roll. It's gone past $100 billion of annual revenue, an amazing sum, and sells more PCs than Dell. Mark Hurd's HP is busy eradicating the Fiorina malaise that hobbled the company. In the storage arena there have been a few management changes to sharpen up marketing and new products are coming. The Q4 storage results were good. It seems to be all coming together.

Staff matters

Relative new hire Dave Roberson, SVP and GM of HP's enterprise storage business, has not made much public impression but he has had a significant impact. For example, he has helped re-energise HP's tape business.

There is a new storage marketing VP, Stefan Schmidt, who moved into storage from HP's IPG, the printer business. Possibly we might see some HP printer-like marketing strategies and messages.

Duncan Campbell, who used to be the marketing VP for storage, has moved on and is involved with messages in the server and storage area.

Attitude

A general attitude seems to be that HP can make good products for its customers by making better use of its assets, by combining them into new products that do storage work better than products from competitors. Andrew Manners, HP's StorageWorks division manager for the UK, said HP is: "starting to group more assets to make a differentiated offering to meet a customer need."

There is also an attitude in HP that shares aspects with Sun. Manners asked, rhetorically, where does a server stop and network-attached storage (NAS) storage start? That is in tune with Sun's idea of server-enhanced storage products such as the X4500 'super-NAS- Thumper box. Is it storage with souped up servers or servers with souped up storage? The boundary is blurred. Inside HP should NAS simply be a form of ProLiant, a server variant?

MSO

One example of this new product boundary blurring idea is the coming MSO product, where MSO stands for Massive Scale Out, not Microsoft Service Organisation. It's due in the April-May period and is a new product built from existing HP components. The aim is to provide storage for oganisations experiencing exponential growth in storage needs, what Manners describes as being "for people with large to very large storage needs," ones scaling out to petabytes of storage. He mentions organisations like the BBC which is digitising its film assets, MSN, Google and the Sangar Institute with its genome database. These

They need a storage product that can scale capacity quickly, up to very high levels with balanced storage capacity, I/O performance and processing power.

MSO is a file-oriented storage product and will consist of ProLiant controllers using the C-class architecture, serial-attached SCSI (SAS) drive blades, PolyServe enterprise NAS virtualisation, and HP tech computing's SFS (Scalable File Share) offering, including the Lustre file system.

HP describes SFS thus: a powerful file server that gives users of Linux clusters scalable storage that is easy to use and easy to administer. The HP StorageWorks SFS20 disk arrays, consisting of a large number of low-cost, off-the-shelf RAID arrays, deliver exceptional price/performance. HP SFS shares bandwidth by distributing files in parallel across Linux clusters of industry-standard server and storage components.

HP SFS scales by adding data "smart cells" to increase the bandwidth and capacity. Metadata smart cells manage file creation, deletion, opens, closes, directory searches, and other metadata operations. File system data is striped across smart cells for high bandwidth performance; smart cell pairs are cross-connected for resilient uninterrupted access.

This is a grid-like computing idea, using Lustre Linux clustering technology. The actual interconnect wasn't revealed but a good supposition is that gigabit Ethernet will be used. A market target for MSO includes customers like SnapFish, which is a photo service. Manners said: "It's deploying four EVAs a week. MSO would be a fifth to a tenth of the price."

We're envisaging this is HP's take on the general evolving Web 2.0, cloud computing idea, the one that IBM's XIV purchase seems to be geared for, and the one that Sun's red-shift' analogy describes. EMC has its coming Hulk and Maui products positioned for this merging market too.

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A characteristic aspect of products evolving into this space is the need for fast and easy expansion. That means easily interconnected boxes, as in clusters, or scale out, and easily expandable in-box capabilities, meaning blades, for scale up.

The coming MSO product features processing and storage blades. Manners said HP was blading everything. This includes tape drives, storage and servers. Even NonStop will be bladed in two years time.

Everything becomes grid-like, and has a component-level infrastructure that can be scaled up and scaled out.

Talking of grid the Reference Information Storage System, RISS, is no longer classed by HP as a straight storage product. It has moved from HP's Adaptive Infrastructure layer of products up past the Business Technology Optimisation (BTO) layer and into the Business Information Optimisation (BIO) layer along with Knightsbridge, ILM and NeoView.

Tape

There seems to be an upsurge in the tape business inside HP. The market for tape products may be declining but that is no reason HP should sit back and be content with a tape business revenue decline.

Manners said: "Tape is a big benefactor from Dave Roberson. It's quite a good business for us, not high growth though. Dave Roberson asks, why don't we grow the tape business although the market is declining two percent a year?"

There is a lot of investment going into tape products, such as DAT and LTO. Manners said: "We're enjoying good sales with disk-to-disk at the low-end. Our virtual tape business is going very well. The ultimate (backup) destination is still tape. Disk is another stage in the process."

That sentiment might appear to be at odds with the virtual tape product deal between HP and Sepaton - No Tapes written backwards - and might indicate a lessening in the strength of the HP-Sepaton relationship.

All In One

Manners said sales of the small business storage product, All In One, had been disappointing. There had ben a sales increase with the bladed version of the product. There are two general HP routes to market: value; and volume. All In One was put in the volume business but: "It didn't grab resellers' imagination." A revised sales programme involving a different compensation scheme was tried with a small group of resellers and gave promising results.So things are looking up.

A lot of All In One functionality is coming up into the MSA offerings, such as wizard-driven installation and simple management.

The recent Dot Hill five year OEM supply scheme is not related to any All In One product developments. That scheme is primarily focused around the VLS (Virtual (tape) Library System). Interestingly Sepaton has just picked Dot Hill as a OEM supplier for a virtual tape appliance product.

Manners said IDC has nine storage product price tiers and HP will use Dot Hill's products to possibly enter new IDC storage categories.

HP's orchestration

Mark Hurd is showing himself to a consummate conductor of the HP orchestra. Under-performing areas have been revitalised. New instruments (products) have been added. The HP orchestra is belting out new music, an evolution of the old sounds but now presented better. There is no drama, no fuss, no histrionics, just enhanced performance through tuning and tweaking of HP's organisation.

Businesses are often represented as oil tankers, taking a long time to turn them around. Hurd's HP can be likened to, somewhat fancifully, to a battleship. It projects an enormous amount of market power around the world and is becoming the most powerful IT systems and service products company afloat.