HP plans smaller scale utility data centre

Hewlett-Packard Co. is planning to deliver a slimmed-down version of its Utility Data Center (UDC) aimed at midsized businesses and departmental users, according to the head of the company’s newly created Adaptive Enterprise Program Office.

“We’re looking at small footprint UDCs. Things that go at the departmental level,” said Nora Denzel, who also serves as the senior vice-president and general manager of HP’s software group. “We don’t have an all-in-one solution for the mid-market, and that’s the one that we’re going to build now.”

HP has prototypes of the departmental UDC running in-house and plans to introduce the smaller scale offering when UDC version 2.0 is announced later this year, said Nick van der Zweep, HP’s director of utility computing in HP’s enterprise systems group.

The smaller UDC is expected to be released as a product some time in 2004, Denzel said.

The departmental UDC would be priced in the US$100,000 range – much less than the $800,000 that HP’s current UDCs start at – and would most likely be used to manage 30 to 50 systems running a single application, according to HP. “We probably will do a sales campaign around specific applications, maybe into the ERP (enterprise resource planning) space,” said van der Zweep.

Manufacturing applications might also be targeted with the new product, he said.

Another feature that seems crucial to a departmental UDC is HP’s Topology Manager software, which will be partially rolled out in UDC 2.0. It uses the grid computing Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) standard to enable UDCs in different locations to share resources and appear as one “virtual data centre,” according to van der Zweep.

HP introduced the UDC in November 2001 as a way for companies to consolidate their IT resources. UDC users plug their hardware into an HP ‘management rack’ and then employ server and storage virtualization software, called the ‘utility controller,’ to automatically assign or remove data centre resources to applications when needed.

In practice, the act of automatically configuring a variety of hardware and applications in this fashion has proven difficult, according to Paul Mason, vice-president of infrastructure at industry research company IDC. “We’re a long way from the point where we can consider this to be something turnkey where you can plug it in and it works,” he said. “It’s just too complicated. This is rocket science and it’s not easy.”

The smaller UDCs might appeal to large organizations looking to deploy the product in different departments, he said. But HP must prove that the UDC concept actually works before it can hope to attract mid-market businesses, Mason added. “The issue has to do with the believability of the concept, actually persuading people that it will work and that it actually will give them the value that they want,” he said.

HP took a step in that direction on Thursday, announcing that Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV’s semiconductor division had consolidated engineering, office application, and manufacturing data centres onto one UDC at its site in Nijmegen, Holland. The division has managed to slash its IT costs by over 40 per cent since it began implementing the UDC in 2001, said Mathieu Clerkx, chief information officer and senior vice president for supply chain operations at Philips.

But Philips is the first company to announce that it has set up its own UDC, and HP says only about a dozen customers are using the technology right now. More reference customers will be needed before the UDC concept finds broader acceptance, and it may be some time before the technology has real appeal for smaller customers, Mason said.

“People are not convinced by one example. There’s one example of anything. It doesn’t prove that it’s routine and that anyone can do it,” he said.

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