HP: Adapt or Die

The world's biggest hardware vendor offers comprehensive virtualization solutions.

After decades of development and a multitude of acquisitions, Hewlett-Packard Co. now sits atop a massive pile of operating systems, servers, storage arrays, PCs and thin clients. Thus, it's not surprising that its virtualization strategy takes a little bit of work to untangle.

It all begins with HP's Adaptive Infrastructure strategy. The idea is to work with IT at a high level to take discrete computing components, servers, disks and so on, and turn them into a shared flexible infrastructure.

Other aspects include automating the data center and, like a modern supply chain, transforming IT from a cost center to what HP calls a "service center." Virtualization is a part of accomplishing this goal.

"With our focus on adaptive infrastructure, our capabilities not only in virtualization but in modular blade systems, power and cooling, automation and security, we can really provide a very, very compelling solution," says Mark Linesch, HP's vice president of Marketing, Infrastructure Software, Enterprise Servers and Storage. "We are placing a software bet on management and automation, adaptive infrastructure and next-generation data center," he adds.

Like rival IBM Corp., HP is also committed to green computing, and for 11 years has had a set of tools that fall under the "Cool Team" umbrella, ranging from printer cartridge recycling to thermal assessments for data centers. Virtualization is a key to not only helping the environment, but saving money on power and cooling.

In March, HP fine-tuned its strategy with a series of announcements about building the next-generation datacenter. HP debuted new services for data consolidation, along with specific new virtualization services, including education and design of virtual infrastructures.

Dueling Architectures
HP is an amalgam. It bought Compaq, which previously acquired Digital Equipment Corp., leaving HP with a number of architectures. Some years have passed and now HP promotes just two main server lines: the x86-based ProLiants, which largely run Windows Server and Linux, and the higher-end Integrity, which runs HP-UX and Linux.

"The fact that HP has both an x86 platform with ProLiant, and with Integrity a more mission-critical platform, is very attractive to our customers as they think about consolidating their data center environments," says Linesch.

Much of the volume is on the x86 side, and here HP acts very much like other x86 vendors, largely pushing industry-standard virtualization tools. "On the ProLiant side, we have deep partnerships with VMware, Microsoft and Citrix. Customers in the industry standard environment can choose any of the hypervisors," explains Linesch.

Analyst Judith Hurwitz, president of Newton, Mass.-based research firm Hurwitz & Associates, agrees. "HP has very significant partnerships with VMware and Citrix. Just about every major virtualization player has aligned with HP."

Like IBM, HP offers its own management tools for these x86 servers. "Our Insight management products and the Essential plug-ins will work with those different environments to manage both the physical and the virtual environments," says Linesch.

HP is also building virtualization right into its ProLiants; the new ProLiant iVirtualization tool, announced earlier this year, sets up virtualization as soon as the server is first powered, and gives users the choice of VMware, Citrix or (in the future) Microsoft.

The HP Integrity line evolved out of the old HP-RISC line. Now based on 64-bit Itanium, Integrity runs HP-UX, Windows, Linux and OpenVMS, which runs legacy DEC applications.

As a high-capacity platform, virtualization is a key technology for Integrity. "We have a very interesting environment we call the HP Virtual Server environment for HP-UX that allows for customers to manage not only a multiprocessor, mission-critical environment, but to deliver resources to critical applications at peak load, to be able to automatically grow and shrink based on service-level objectives," says Linesch.

"The HP-UX platform also has a utility pricing solution so customers can quickly expand their capacity on an as-needed basis."

Those platforms need management, and HP has two main management lines, both through acquisition. Opsware, acquired last summer for $1.6 billion, is the newest offering. "Opsware has a whole set of capabilities to automate the business of IT, the network, the server and storage. It can orchestrate across the data center and through process orchestration, and virtualization capability, do things like move virtual machines from one place to another," explains Linesch.

Wolf on HP

I see HP as the clear leader in terms of virtualization strategy. This year you've heard a lot of buzz around the "dynamic data center," and while a number of vendors have been working hard on marketing, HP has focused much of its efforts into shipping products.

HP VirtualConnect software on its C-class blades has been very well received and has provided the chassis flexibility and deployment ease needed when virtual environments are deployed on blade systems. Also, it would not surprise me to see Virtual Connect functionally ported to HP rackmount servers in the future.

The Opsware acquisition was one of the key pieces in HP's data center automation strategy, and they have worked closely with Scalent Systems to offer automation solutions that include bare metal server, storage and network provisioning.

When you add in HP's leadership role with embedded hypervisors from VMware and Citrix, and iLO management of virtual machines, it's hard to find any holes in its strategy. If you take the time to read some of the HP software product end user license agreements, you'll even see that the company includes language describing what happens to a license following a P2V conversion. It would be good to see other vendors offer similar clarity.

-- Chris Wolf

Insightful Management
Then there's HP Insight Dynamics VSE, a suite of management tools that includes capacity and power planning. VSE also offers one console for managing virtual and physical assets, as well as hypervisors from the major players. VSE encompasses HP Virtual Connect, HP Insight Control and HP VSE itself.

The integration and exploitation of these tools is where you get the real value, HP argues. Take the HP Capacity Advisor, for instance. "You can look at your minimum and maximum utilization rates on your HP-UX servers. Then you might kick off an Opsware workflow to provision those servers, and ensure they have what they need to operate in that peak load environment. But because you know about min and max, you can do some interesting things, set pre-approved policies that say, 'When peak load gets to max or when peak load gets to min, do the following things,'" says Linesch.

Virtualization expert Dan Kusnetzky recently wrote that, "The capabilities of HP's Insight Dynamics VSE and HP Operations Orchestration enhancements make it clear that HP isn't going to take a backseat to anyone in the industry in the areas of virtualization technology or the optimization of physical and virtual resources."

Kusnetzky, of Osprey, Fla.-based consultancy Kusnetzky Group LLC, concluded that, "If your organization is contemplating a move from today's patchwork-quilt data center to a more uniform architecture complemented with powerful management and orchestration software, HP's offerings are worth a good look."

HP Mini Case Study: Server Health Makeover

Metro Health, a Grand Rapids, Mich., health care concern, had two problems. First, it was moving into a brand-new facility. Second, it had about 150 IBM servers (and growing) that would presumably have to make the move.

For some, a challenge becomes an opportunity, and Metro Health CIO William J. Lewkowski thought this was the perfect time to re-architect his server infrastructure. He consulted with HP and decided on high-powered Itanium-based Integrity servers. Now his new data center houses some 100 servers running HP-UX and Windows. And more servers are expected to be decommissioned.

The trick, of course, is virtualization -- in this case, VMware's ESX.

The Storage Story
HP may not have the name recognition of EMC Corp. in storage, but the company is a real player. One area HP has been pushing is storage virtualization.

HP addresses storage virtualization on three levels. The lowest is at the server or server OS level. Here, the OS interacts with a virtual disk; the OS, however, doesn't know it's not working with a physical one. One HP product in this area is HP PolyServe Software for Microsoft SQL Server. HP acquired PolyServe last year.

The benefits of server-level storage virtualization are server and storage consolidation and faster application deployment. On the downside, server-level storage virtualization doesn't work with as many applications, OSes and hardware devices at higher-level approaches.

Next up the stack is SAN-level virtualization. SANs are, by definition, a type of virtual storage as they offer a pool of storage that pulls together disks over the network. HP's offering in this space is the HP StorageWorks EFS Clustered Gateway.

The highest level, and the most virtual, is virtualization based on the storage itself.

Similar to bare-metal server hypervisors, virtualization is built right into the array controllers so the storage devices themselves can build virtual disks, clones and snapshots.

HP's answer to this segment is the HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array.

The advantages, HP argues, are automatic load balancing, great disk utilization and faster performance because disk-intensive operations are spread across multiple disks or spindles. "Both the Integrity and ProLiant platforms can plug into our HP storage virtualization solutions. [With EVA and StorageWorks] we can virtualize heterogeneous arrays," explains Linesch.

The HP Catalog

HP Systems Insight Manager: This systems management tool came along with the acquisition of Compaq. Once thought of as a niche solution, HP's commitment has turned it into a real player-one that now understands virtualization.

HP Opsware Server Automation System with the Virtualization Director: Manages virtual and physical servers and indicates the relationships between the two.

HP Virtual Connect: Ties BladeSystem machines to network storage. Managed by Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager, which turns SAN and LAN storage into a single pool.

HP Insight Control: A management suite that can work with Microsoft or VMware virtual machines, providing P2V and V2P migration,

HP Virtual Server Environment (VSE) for HP Integrity Servers: VSE is designed for maximum IT uptime, and lets services continue even as servers go down. IT can also add capacity, even down to the level of an individual application, as needed.

HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Arrays (EVA): This family of hardware storage devices has a maximum storage capacity of 240TB.

HP StorageWorks XP for Heterogeneous Arrays: HP also has the HP StorageWorks Virtualization System 200, a virtualization appliance, as well as the StorageWorks Virtual Library System.

HP Opsware Virtualization Director: Provisioning and lifecycle management tool that works with Microsoft Virtual Server, VMware, Xen and Solaris.

Remote Client Computing Solutions: Based on HP's acquisition of thin client vendor Neoware, HP now has a desktop virtualization hardware offering, and application streaming software solutions through a partnership with Citrix.

HP Consulting: Offers virtualization services that can define the ROI and TCO of virtual infrastructures, develop an architectural plan, do proof of concept and then build and support the new infrastructure.

Fabric and I/O
Like IBM, HP is also virtualizing network and storage interfaces. "We are starting to see the virtualization of the fabric. Virtual Connect is becoming very popular with our blade customers. It abstracts the dependencies of the SAN and the LAN and allows you to move workloads from one blade to another fairly easily," says Linesch.

"Virtual Connect allows IT to move a workload that's running on a physical machine from one blade to another in a fast and easy way, and maintain the LAN and SAN connectivity as that movement happens. This is very important for admins, because they no longer have to coordinate with their SAN and LAN brethren every time they want to do a change, a move or a migration."

The Desktop
HP has long been in the thin client hardware business. The acquisition of Compaq gave HP a popular line of thin client devices and put HP in the top three for thin client hardware, along with Wyse Technology and Neoware. Last fall HP bought Neoware (which itself acquired IBM's thin client business) for $214 million and now has thin clients tailored for Windows, Unix and Linux.

On the software side, HP recently announced that it will support Citrix XenDesktop with its servers and thin clients. In addition, HP tools such as Insight Dynamics VSE and HP Business Service Automation can manage XenDesktop. Business Service Automation provides inventory, patching and provisioning.

Impact on Server Sales?
Some observers worry that an increased focus on virtualization will ultimately reduce server sales and hurt hardware vendors. HP couldn't disagree more. Virtualization is a great opportunity for HP. "Our shipments of Integrity virtualization technologies grew 120 percent in 2007 over 2006, our engagements with VMware grew 83 percent, and our overall server business according to IDC grew about 16.6 percent in the first quarter of 2007," says Linesch, who further argues that HP is far more than just a hardware company. "For HP, unlike ... someone who is just trying to make a buck with hardware, we think virtualization is wonderful."