HP sees the silver lining in the storage cloud

The Hewlett-Packard Co. takes storage seriously, and it wants to make sure that everybody is well aware of that fact.

To that end HP invited a group of reporters and analysts from Canada, Latin America and the United States to San Francisco to impress upon them the HP storage message.

As Duane Zitzner, president and chief executive officer of HP’s computer products group, explained, storage needs are growing and HP’s business is growing right along.

“Storage is certainly a growth industry. It hasn’t got to the frenzy of the .com companies, but we’re heading towards that,” Zitzner said. “From an HP perspective, storage is a multi-billion dollar business inside the company, and we are going to go after the marketplace and make a name for ourselves.”

According to Zitzner, the disaggregation that is occurring within the storage industry is an opportunity to provide storage solutions with greater capacity and performance – traits that will be critical as the world moves closer to an E-services, apps-on-tap, completely connected model of computing in which all documents, images, and information will reside in a cloud.

“You will be able to get capability in the clouds and we can supply the infrastructure that allows you to build the cloud or we can supply the cloud,” Zitzner promised.

As part of that promise, HP is offering over 20 new products and updates covering the entire market from the home user to the corporate infrastructure, but as comprehensive as the offerings were, the audience wanted more.

“Trying to co-ordinate the press and analysts together in order to raise the visibility of the storage division is a good move,” said San Jose, Calif.-based Carolyn DiCenzo, director and principal analyst for Dataquest’s database and data warehousing software worldwide program, “having a good product doesn’t work unless people know about it.”

“But,” added her colleague, Fara Yale, Dataquest’s chief analyst, computer storage service, “HP needs to be a little more open about its roadmaps.”

For example, even though HP personnel seemed quite excited to present the SureStore HD Server 4000 series and its integrated local back-up, its one button back-up recovery, its event log, its context sensitive help and its RAID 5 capabilities, nobody was willing to even hint at its future OS support plans. Currently the servers support only one operating system, and it isn’t HP-UX.

“The biggest flaw is the lack of interface to any OS beyond NT,” explained Roger W. Cox, chief analyst, server storage and RAID workplace, also at Dataquest.

Useful functionality will be the key for the company’s line of rewritable DVD products, according to both HP and the analysts. The 3GB DVD+RW product as the first prong in its attack on this marketplace, even it is admitting that it won’t be until the second generation of DVD+RW products come available — the 4.7GB models — when the technology will be fully functional.

“HP has the right perspective on DVD reader-writer,” explained David G. Hill, senior analyst, storage and storage management, with the Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. “3GB is not the answer. They need to wait for 4.7GB. With that we are getting close to a revolution taking place.”

Issues of backward computability with existing DVD-ROM drives is one of the biggest barriers to the introduction of the technology.

“DVD+RW won’t play a big place until we get compatibility with the readers,” according to Perry Ralph, CD-RW product marketing manager.

He said that is well on its way, since HP announced it struck a deal that will see companies that build DVD readers, including Sony and Philips, re-engineer their products for computability.

HP is also certainly working on a number of technologies that it plans to see in commercial market. Among those presented by Marvin S. Keshner, director of the information storage technology lab in the Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif., were high density, blue laser-based DVD+RW units that will reach up to 20GB of solid state magnetic storage (MRAM) which will “store information as the direction of magnetization in a thin-film storage cell fabricated at the intersection of two lines in a large array,” and atomic resolution storage, which Keshner pegged as HP’s most important development work in the storage area.

This technique, which involves a focused beam of electrons making changes to the physical properties of a piece of medium and tiny micro-machined springs with about 25 microns of movement supporting a sensitive tip that reads those changes, will be able to store “tens of terabytes per square inch, and by its fourth or fifth generation will have bits that will be 15 atoms in diameter,” according to Keshner.

Keshner added that it is important for customers to know that HP is thinking at least that far head.

“Five years ago, we never talked about a product until we were ready to ship it, but now it is an issue of mindshare. If customers aren’t looking to you as a potential leader, you don’t even make their short lists.”