HP makes storage software buy, sets iSCSI plans

In twin storage moves, Hewlett-Packard Co. today announced an acquisition aimed at boosting its ability to manage multivendor storage-area networks (SAN) and said it plans to roll out a complete line of disk arrays and related products based on the emerging iSCSI standard by early next year.

Although the new line of storage products is still in development, some of them will be available to Canadian customers before the end of this year, said Paul Patterson, Hewlett-Packard Canada Co.’s Mississauga, Ont.-based business manager for enterprise storage products.

“As more and more companies take a look at their infrastructure, storage [needs] are always increasing, and it’s always been very complex. There have been a lot of different standards out there, and we’ve found that a lot of customers were confused about the standards and where storage was going. iSCSI gives customers a protocol (TCP/IP) that many are familiar with, so that’s why it’s very persuasive,” Patterson said.

The iSCSI technology, also referred to as SCSI over Internet Protocol, lets users take block-level SCSI data and wrap the information in TCP/IP packets for transmission across the Internet. That enables end users on LANs to get at corporate data via the Internet’s basic communications protocol.

At the same time, HP said its planned iSCSI line will mirror all the Fibre Channel-based storage devices that are currently sold as part of the company’s Federated Storage Area Management product suite. That includes disk arrays, storage networking switches, host bus adapters and other devices, according to HP, which said the iSCSI-based products should be ready by the first quarter of next year.

IBM announced some initial iSCSI-based storage devices earlier this year, and it began shipping the products in volume last month. However, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is still working to finalize an iSCSI standard, a process that’s expected to be completed late this year.

HP shifted its Ethernet networking business into its storage division last year in preparation for developing the upcoming iSCSI-based devices, but the company said it’s keeping the products in the design and testing phase until the IETF’s standards work is finished. John McHugh, general manager of network infrastructure for the storage unit, said the iSCSI line will be sold as an alternative to HP’s Fibre Channel-based products but won’t replace that technology.

The second storage move HP announced today is the purchase of StorageApps Inc., a Bridgewater, N.J.-based maker of storage management software, in a stock-swap transaction valued at about US$350 million. The two companies said StorageApps will become a wholly owned subsidiary of HP as part of the deal.

Ron Johnson, an analyst at market research firm Evaluator Group in Englewood, Colo., said the deal will give HP more mature storage management software than it has now, putting it on a more level playing field with rivals IBM Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. in that part of the storage business. “This will definitely shake up IBM and Compaq,” Johnson said.

In particular, he added, the acquisition of StorageApps will give HP a leg up on storage virtualization capabilities, which let users pool and reallocate disk capacity from different arrays. That’s emerging as one of the hottest applications in the storage management market because it enables users to more fully utilize their storage resources.

“There are huge amounts of data stored, terabytes and terabytes, [on servers] that are just direct attach so it can’t be shared – think about a company with servers on every floor. SAN management is about pooling all the data you have so that you can effectively manage or mine it,” Patterson said.

HP currently offers storage virtualization software for some of its disk arrays, but it lacks an enterprise-level product supporting devices made by multiple storage vendors. Both IBM and Compaq are expected to roll out storage virtualization offerings for multi vendor SANs later this year, according to Johnson.

HP Canada is at http://welcome.hp.com/country/ca/eng/welcome.htm

StorageApps is at http://www.storageapps.com/

– With files from Lucas Mearian of IDG News Service.