HP looks to stop the hair-pulling inside data centres

Network appliance heavyweight Hewlett-Packard Co. says it recognizes the frustration data centre operators face every day: racks and racks of hardware to care for, miles of wire to track and a multitude of disparate software packages.

To that end, HP is attempting to spell relief with its newly released Utility Data Centre, a package aimed at offering easier configuration of data centre resources on the fly, less wire- (and hair-) pulling, plus a better understanding of just how much storage a data centre network has available at any given time.

So HP’s solution to too much hardware and software in the data centre is…to add even more hardware and software, right?

That’s right said Xing Feng, HP Canada’s software category marketing manager. But it makes more sense than you might think. Network managers “may add five or 10 new boxes,” he said, “but they’ll be able get rid of literally 20 to 30 per cent of the boxes in their data centres.”

HP said UDC means good things for data centre operators, particularly those with multiple locations. Feng said UDC puts an end to hardware reconfigurations, because the wires stay put once they’re hooked into UDC. Want to reallocate a box or 12? Do it via UDC’s Utility Controller software, on screen.

With UDC, managers gain a better understanding of where their resources stand, Feng said. For example, if you know that your payroll application requires one terabyte of storage, but it is only run once every two weeks, UDC would configure the system so storage isn’t wasted during downtime.

The product works with other major vendors’ hardware, so compatibility is no problem, said HP. This means data centre operators aren’t obliged to purchase new hardware every time their customer wants to add more functionality.

When customers do request extra functionality or services, UDC is also capable of examining a data centre’s infrastructure to see if the required resources already exist – thus potentially eliminating unnecessary hardware investments. The end result, according to HP, is a quicker response time to client demands.

Bruce Caldwell, Gartner Inc.’s principal analyst, outsourcing services, said UDC is a viable option for large data centre operators. Despite the $1.4-million price tag, operators “will see a return on investment in a shorter period of time.”

Caldwell added that UDC also answers another key element that data centre operators have been pining for: billing structures that reflect customers’ usage time. This is achievable, he said, because usage statistics pass through the system.

But Mike Pegg, product manager of hosting services for Toronto-based ISP Primus Canada Telecommunications Ltd., was skeptical. He was concerned that HP’s solution – add more to simplify – made little sense.

“Ten servers? Yeah, that’d be a lot.”

Primus, however, operates just two data centres, one in Toronto and another in Vancouver; HP said UDC is for larger operators, those with more of a global scope.

Still, Pegg added, It sounds like something we do anyway. We write scripts and do this manually. (But) I’ve not seen anything out of the box that can help us get this kind of efficiency. It sounds like something we’d take a look at.”

Pegg was impressed with some of UDC’s features and likened it to a “console for the data centre,” by which firms such as Primus might do well.

“For mail, we’ve got four servers. We’ve got network-attached-storage, the news server, the Web server, the load balancers. Something that can monitor that and let us scale easily, that’s of great benefit because we’re trying to get as much out of each of those boxes as possible.”