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Utility computing reaches HP PCs, printers

update Hewlett-Packard announces several new hardware and software products that expand the utility computing idea for servers and extend the technology to printers and PCs.

Hewlett-Packard announced several new hardware and software products Thursday that expand the utility computing idea for servers and extend the technology to printers and PCs.

In one change, HP Unix server customers now can set their machines to add or remove processors automatically to respond to changing demands, paying as they go for the power they use. In another, Unix customers using midrange models of HP's new Integrity line of Itanium-based servers will be able to use this pay-per-use method, beginning in January.

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What's new:
HP is expanding the utility computing concept to printers and PCs.

Bottom line:
HP has been working feverishly to add specific products and services to its utility computing idea, an admittedly confusing strategy. Not only is the company racing against the competing N1 effort from Sun Microsystems and IBM's e-business on demand initiative, but HP also faces the imperative of customers who want to reduce the costs of operating their complex computing gear.

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A bigger departure is the inclusion of PCs and printers in the utility computing idea. In the first quarter of 2004, HP plans to begin selling "blade" PCs that are installed in large quantities in a central rack and shared over a network. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company argues that the systems will be easier to manage and that companies won't have to buy a PC for each employee who works in shifts or otherwise can share the same hardware.

Pay-per-use is coming to printers with metering technology from HP that monitors how "consumables" such as laser printer toner are used up. The technology is designed to ensure that customers won't run out of necessary consumables or have to pay for excess inventory, HP said.

HP has been working feverishly to add specific products and services to its utility computing idea, an admittedly confusing strategy it calls Adaptive Enterprise, which is focused on building computing systems that can quickly respond to changing workloads. Not only is the company racing against the competing N1 effort from Sun Microsystems and IBM's e-business on-demand


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initiative, but HP also faces the imperative of customers who want to reduce the costs of operating their complex computing gear.

HP grabbed an early lead in the utility computing domain with its expensive but useful Utility Data Center product, but IBM has since caught up, after acquiring Think Dynamics in May, said Forrester analyst Laura Koetzle. "IBM and HP are pretty much neck and neck now. Sun tends to lag behind," she said.

One advantage IBM and HP have are services groups that spend time trying to untangle, simplify and automate customers' computing infrastructure, Koetzle said.

"Nobody is going to say, 'Take all my gear away so I can have the exciting new functionality,'" Koetzle said. "The vendors with the services organizations have a better chance of getting in there on the ground to write the connective tissue software that's necessary to make...this kind of organic functionality possible."

Much of Thursday's new technology from HP rests on a foundation of "virtualization"--a process that makes it easier to move or reconfigure software tasks by separating them from the hardware on which they run. For example, virtualization of data storage makes it easier to increase or decrease the capacity of a networked storage system without disrupting software using that system.

"The idea behind virtualization is to move those resources where you need it, when you need it," said Nick van der Zweep, director of infrastructure solutions and virtualization at HP.

Virtualization is a key component of HP's Adaptive Enterprise effort as well as efforts from Sun, IBM, Computer Associates International, Veritas and others. Other components include "provisioning," in which jobs are assigned to specific hardware, and "service level agreements," in which metering software ensures that enough computing resources are available to meet performance requirements.

HP's software for monitoring service-level agreements is called Workload Manager. An upgrade to the software lets it automatically add or remove processing power as needed to meet those service levels for customers running Oracle's database software or BEA Systems' application server software, van der Zweep said.

"With Oracle and BEA, you simply specify that you need a quarter-second response time," van der Zweep said, providing an example. "It will carve out one (central processing unit), or two, four or 10. It'll dynamically increase and decrease the size of that server."

In addition, the software dovetails with the pay-per-use plan so that customers are billed accordingly, van der Zweep said. The Workload Manager software itself costs $1,000 to $2,000 per server processor to run, he said.

Blade PCs
Blade PC technology, pioneered by start-up ClearCube Technology, will go under the Consolidated Client Infrastructure at HP. It will cost $1,500 per system, including the blade, a "thin client" needed at each desk to tap into the back-end blade, training and support. The blades alone cost $799. HP said the Consolidated Client Infrastructure will save customers an average $1,200 per user per year and up to 50 percent over four years.


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Will blades really pay off
for customers who don't need
high-density racks of servers?
Yes--eventually.


Each blade PC runs a copy of Windows XP Professional, but each user's personal information is stored on networked storage, said Tad Bodeman, director of marketing for the Consolidated Client Infrastructure.

With Blade PCs, data is better protected, Bodeman said. About 60 percent of corporate data resides on hard drives, but less than 4 percent of users back up their data. When a blade PC crashes, though, the user just logs in to a new one, which loads the personal information from the centralized storage system.

Companies such as Volkswagen Credit, a division of Volkswagen of America, and United States Steel have been testing the system using HP's BL10e blade servers, but the blade PCs will use Transmeta's 1.1GHz Efficeon processor when they go on sale in the first quarter of 2004, HP said.

One major reason to employ blades: Information technology managers prefer centralized systems they control. But blade PCs won't be trivial to employ, some believe.

"The concept of client blades has technical and economic merits. But there are cultural hurdles to be cleared," Illuminata analyst David Freund said. "Employees have become used to the freedom they've enjoyed with their desktop PCs. 'Freedom to run amok' would be the IT manager's view, of course."

Blade PCs help administrators keep PC software stable and thereby make it easier to troubleshoot problems, Bodeman said. "On day zero, they are all the same. On day one, they are all different," he said. "It takes a very sophisticated technician to sort through what the end user did to cause a problem."

One customer won over by the technology is Volkswagen Credit in Libertyville, Ill., which has about 1,200 PCs for 1,000 employees. The company has been testing blade PCs for a small group but expects to have 200 employees using it by the end of June, and possibly more than 500 staffers using it by December, said Jack Klosterman of Volkswagen Credit's information technology group.

The company is saving money, because it's easier to move employees without having to move PCs, it's cheaper to set up new systems, users don't have to wait as long if a system crashes, and the systems are easier to manage, Klosterman said.

Blade PCs could be taken in several future utility computing directions as well. For example, unused PCs could be assigned other processing tasks through more sophisticated provisioning software. Or with use of VMware's virtualization software, a single machine could run several PCs. HP declined to comment on future plans.

HP uses "allocation engine" technology from F5 networks to link the users to the blade PCs, Bodeman said.