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HP turns to Hitachi for storage

Hewlett-Packard stakes its claim in the high-end storage market, announcing it would sell its Hitachi products under the HP name instead of relying on EMC.

Hewlett-Packard staked its claim in the high-end storage market today, announcing it would sell its Hitachi products under the HP name instead of relying on its current partner, EMC.

Although Hewlett-Packard will continue selling EMC's Symmetrix products, EMC's storage products are too proprietary and too old to fit into HP's future plans for storage and server systems, the types of systems that don't go down for more than five minutes a year.

"To reach that goal, we needed a high-end product with no single points of failure. EMC's Symmetrix, with its aging architecture, will not meet that criterion," said Marilyn Edling, general manager of HP's enterprise storage business unit, at an HP event today.

Instead, HP will begin to sell Hitachi Data Systems storage products under the HP label, Edling said. As reported yesterday, some financial analysts don't expect the Hitachi deal to have much effect on EMC revenues.

"It was pretty strong, confrontational language," said Giga Information Group analyst Colin Rankine. He said HP's decision to go with Hitachi was likely spurred by EMC's high prices and the fact that HP was missing out on revenue, not because of any true inferiority of EMC's products.

"It's too big to ignore in terms of a revenue," Rankine said. When a company buys a new server and storage system, "in many cases storage is more than 50 percent of the revenue and profit."

Companies often solicit bids for Hitachi storage equipment as a way to keep EMC prices down, Rankine said. "We've had clients speaking with us who are frustrated with the high cost of EMC storage," he said. However, he added, "I'm not sure I agree with HP's comments implying EMC wasn't up to the high-availability" challenge. Both Hitachi and EMC have "rock solid" products, he said.

In addition to the storage array from Hitachi, HP also will sell other components that will help companies set up storage area networks (SANs), a system to separate storage from severs so it's easier for administrators to handle growing storage requirements. HP's SAN products, including management software and a 16-port Fibre Channel switch to help build the storage networks, will work with all kinds of different hardware and software, including Windows NT, mainframes, and several varieties of Unix.

But Rankine expressed skepticism that HP would reach the goal of total interoperability with its Fibre Channel-based products. Granted, EMC's enterprise storage network approach is not an open SAN architecture, "but all the ones that work today are proprietary," he said.

What storage companies typically have found, Rankine said, is that it's more practical to hand-pick hardware partners in order to get a product out in a year. Finding open standards that support all sorts of different Fibre Channel switches and hubs and network adapters and storage arrays is years away.

HP is one of many companies putting increased emphasis on the increasingly important--and lucrative--high-end storage market. Others include IBM, Sun Microsystems, Data General, Dell, and Compaq.

Curiously, HP and EMC were founding members of the FibreAlliance, a group trying to establish standards to get storage area networking components to work together. Other SAN players, including IBM and Dell, have addressed SAN compatibility problems by linking a series of specific products guaranteed to work together.

EMC's Mark Fredrickson said EMC wasn't satisfied with the pace of the Storage Networking Industry Association and decided to go ahead with its own. Meanwhile, Sun has its own StoreX plan to standardize storage scene, and Hitachi signed on to that effort yesterday.

HP was unabashed about its aspirations. "We will establish an unmistakable position of leadership" in the high-end storage area, Edling said.

"Companies that treat data like a strategic asset" and know how to analyze and manage that data will be in the best position to attract developers and take advantage of new Internet-based business methods, said Bill Russell, executive vice president of HP's enterprise computing solutions group. Storage, though, is now a major headache for information technology (IT) staff, and dealing with storage is projected to soak up half of IT budgets.

HP's new SureStore E products will fit into its overall storage plan, called "the HP Equation," Edling said. That plan encompasses not just SANs, but any other type of storage method as well, including disks directly attached to servers or special-purpose file servers stripped down to offer simple and inexpensive storage.

In the long term, HP will fit storage into its "five nines" plan to achieve 99.999 percent uptime by the end of the year 2000 for servers, storage, databases, and programs, said David Scott, worldwide marketing manager for HP's enterprise storage business unit.

The HP Equation plan includes the Hitachi disk array, which HP will sell as with the product name of MC256, and several other components. Among them: • A variety of SAN products using the Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop method of linking components together in a high-speed, sturdy network.
• SureSoft storage management software for both SANs and ordinary storage systems. The software will help companies keep tabs on hardware, find out when parts aren't working right, and help back up data.
• Several consulting services from HP to help customers design, tune, and support SANs.