HP outlines virtualization strategy

By Heidi Biggar

At the ENSA@Work conference in Amsterdam last week, Hewlett-Packard made a lot of noise about virtualization and network-attached storage (NAS), announcing expanded relationships with Brocade and Microsoft, respectively, as well as details surrounding the company's planned fourth-quarter virtualization rollout.

However, while these events made headlines at the company's European conference, they did not have nearly the same thud factor in the U.S.

"HP raised more questions [about its virtualization strategy] than it actually answered," says Dianne McAdam, a senior analyst at the Data Mobility Group consulting firm.

Since its acquisition of Compaq, HP has been in the difficult position of trying to juxtapose a two-platform virtualization strategy?one based on the former Compaq VersaStor platform and the other based on the StorageApps virtualization appliance (now known as CASA). HP acquired StorageApps for $350 million in the fall of 2001, making it one of the storage industry's most costly buyouts.

"We can't see how they can keep both platforms," says McAdam. "Our bet is that VersaStor wins out, and CASA loses."

Despite broad skepticism, HP officials remain adamant that the company plans to keep both technologies and that it will roll out the first "blended" virtualization environment later this year.

"CASA and VersaStor are complementary, not redundant," says Don Langeberg of HP's network storage solutions (NSS) group. "CASA provides the heterogeneous disk/host support, while VersaStor provides the scale and performance." Combined, Langeberg claims the two virtualization architectures will give end users the best of both worlds: heterogeneity, scalability, and performance.

The idea is to embed VersaStor technology in an intelligent switch (e.g., a Brocade Fabric Aware Platform switch) and onto the Continuous Access Storage Appliance (CASA) within the storage network, according to Langeberg. The VersaStor code, which serves as the communication protocol, then directs storage traffic based on the storage services (e.g., replication, volume management, data management) that are applied.

The switch decides if the I/O goes direct to the storage device or if it needs to be replicated first. If no services are to be applied, then the I/O goes direct to the storage box at wire speeds. However, if the I/O needs to be replicated, then the switch directs it to go through the CASA box first, explains Langeberg.

At the ENSA@Work conference, HP announced a joint development agreement with Brocade to embed VersaStor code into Brocade's new SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform. Brocade acquired the platform in its purchase of Rhapsody Networks.

Beta testing of HP's integrated virtualization environment is scheduled for the third quarter, with production shipments expected by the end of the year.

As for HP's NAS announcement with Microsoft, it boils down to a simple extension of the two companies' existing NAS relationship: The two plan to go on a 10-city road show to promote server and storage consolidation onto Windows-based NAS devices. HP and Microsoft are also expected to announce the first of several educational "solutions guides" in March, as part of their joint marketing, training, and sales activities.

This article was originally published on January 29, 2003