HP Reasserts Itself as Major Software Firm

Hewlett-Packard introduces some 45 new or enhanced offerings targeting the data center, middleware and management.

Despite its pending merger with hardware provider Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. today will reassert itself as a major software company when it introduces some 45 new or enhanced offerings targeting the data center, middleware and management.

HP, in its second big attempt this year to assert its presence in the software arena, will gather all the components of its news under an integrated services management banner, with HPs NetAction middleware line providing the service creation and delivery tools and its OpenView line providing the service assurance and usage management.

But the centerpiece of HPs news is a bundling of software and services aimed at helping service providers and enterprises gain greater efficiency out of the data center. The HP Utility Data Center is a combination of software and services designed to virtualize a data center, allowing resources to be directed at will to meet the shifting demands of individual applications. HP officials assert that instead of having to provision servers and storage to meet peak utilization of each application, users can provision for average utilization and direct unused resources to meet peak demand on the fly.

"We move average utilization from 35 to 75 percent," claimed Nick van der Zweep, marketing director at HP, in Cupertino, Calif. "The software in the management system ties it all together, knows which systems are doing what, and can reallocate resources on the fly."

The problem HP is addressing is a big source of frustration for data center operators. "There are many times I wished I could turn off existing infrastructure and recoup those dollars when Im not using it," said Mark Whatman, chief architect for infrastructure architecture at Avaya Inc., in Maitland, Fla. "Using what I need when I need it would let me budget more efficiently. I wouldnt have to buy eight CPUs because I need it for one week a year."

That shifting is done through HPs new Utility Controller Software, which generically views data center resources as storage, network or computing devices. The controller software includes a Resource Abstraction Layer (RAL) driver that allows different hardware to be recognized by the system. Each device requires a RAL to be recognized. HP created RAL drivers for all of its computer systems and storage products, as well as for products from EMC Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Brocade Communications Inc., ADIC Pathlight and Foundry Networks Inc. HP will also create custom RAL drivers on a case-by-case basis, and it is working with partners who will create their own RAL drivers.

"Conceptually, it sounds to me like theyre addressing a requirement weve already had to build for ourselves, which was very painful," said Doug Carwardine, vice president of business development at Nuvo Network Management Inc., a management service provider in Ottawa, Ontario. "Its a real technical challenge to build a data center that lets you share the economies of scale. We managed to do it, but it wasnt easy," said Carwardine, who was briefed on the news.

"Its the right idea at the right time," said Albert Grychowski, chief operating officer at Anobi Technology Corp., in Chicago. Although he believes that it "has a chance to succeed," Grychowski said there will be "gotchas" in the early stages of deployment

The HP Utility Data Center concept is not unlike IBMs eLiza self-healing and management initiative, believes Donna Scott, vice president and research director at Gartner Inc., in Austin, Texas. "Theyre both about how to get IT infrastructure to automatically meet service goals and allow IT to spend the right amount of money [to meet existing requirements]," she said.

IBM last week as part of its eLiza initiative introduced new services and supporting technologies designed to monitor and map the computing and networking components involved in specific business processes. The services, formerly called e-business Management Services, in real time alert users of risks or issues that can affect a business process. The notification is provided in a dashboard graphical interface that calls attention to any event that affects business process objectives. As part of the services package, IBM uses a self-optimizing tool that dynamically allocates capacity to prioritize business transactions. Like the Utility Controller Software, the IBM tool is also designed to improve operational efficiency.

Pricing raise some eyebrows

Both the IBM and the HP offerings come at a steep price, however. HP for its part believes that the entry-level cost will be about $1 million, depending on the size of the data center. Despite a potential cost reduction of up 50 percent for a large data center, the offering only makes sense for data centers with at least 100 to 200 servers, according to van der Zweep. Both Grychowski and Carwardine see that as too rich for their current operations. "That will raise some eyebrows," said Grychowski.

As a hardware company trying to set itself apart in the software arena, HP is hoping to leverage its OpenView management software and NetAction middleware to differentiate its offerings. Although HP has had good success with OpenView in the service provider space, it has yet to make its mark in middleware with its acquisition of Bluestone Software earlier this year, according to Gartners Scott.

To shore up its middleware position, HP will leverage its OpenCall product, which directly connects voice to the Internet. "Two-thirds of all short messaging traffic delivered by cell phones is carried by OpenCall platforms," asserted Rick Hayes Roth, chief technology officer for software at HP.

HP will announce an OpenCall system developers kit for Linux. The company will also announce a rewrite of its Web applications server around Java 2 Enterprise Edition. HP Application Server 8.0 adds greater modularity, includes an implementation of the UDDI Consortiums Web services registry and incorporates an interactive edition of the Netaction Process Manager.

The latest round of Netaction improvements and packaging is the best HP has made since it acquired Bluestone, but it could be too late, believes Yefim Natis, vice president and research director at Gartner. The other problem is that its competitors -- IBM, BEA and Sun -- all have well-established software infrastructure, and so its a difficult market to penetrate.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that all the announcements are hanging in limbo awaiting the Compaq acquisition.

OpenView, on the other hand, stands to gain even more traction among telcos and service providers as HP delivers on its integration promises.