Well that was interesting! I spent Monday and Tuesday with a dozen bloggers in Colorado Springs learning about HP’s key StorageWorks products from the executives and engineers of that storied company. Throughout the event, we listened, asked tough questions, and tweeted incessantly. HP Tech Day generated an avalanche of publicity for the company, including press articles and cries of FUD and misdirection.
Here is the truth: HP and Ivy did a darn fine job of putting together a set of sessions to tell us what they have. They presented folks who really knew their stuff, warts and all. They invited a variety of independent voices and let us ask and say anything we wanted with no expectations, let alone an NDA. This was a stellar event, and every other IT company should be asking why they didn’t do it first.
Won’t Be Fooled
But what was HP Tech Day really all about? Did they brainwash us into thinking the EVA was exciting? Did HP hoodwink and misdirect us from noticing the gaps and overlaps in their product line? Were we dazzled enough to no longer question their storage strategy? Of course not! Robin Harris has seen it all before. Rich Brambley can dissect a presentation with the best of them. Nigel Poulton questions everything he sees. This was not a love-fest, and there were some seriously uncomfortable moments for the HP crew.
We were all savvy enough to know what the score was: HP (and especially their StorageWorks product line) has never received much press or blogger attention. They invited us in to spread the word about their products and get blog exposure. And it worked! The storage Twitter-sphere was dominated with #HPTechDay postings for days, and attendees did indeed blog about the stuff they saw. It was a success from HP’s perspective, and now that we know more about their products we will likely cover them in the future.
I personally never blogged much about HP products. I compared them to Ford, called one product an all-time cool flop, and covered their acquisition of LeftHand and Ibrix, but that’s about it. I didn’t even notice that they had started selling LSI’s StoreAge-based virtualization platform, and didn’t know enough about their other product releases over the last two years to mention them. If it hadn’t been for Calvin Zito and the HP Tech Day, I probably wouldn’t mention them in the future, either. They just weren’t on my radar.
We Were Educated
This has changed as a result of Tech Day. I now know that EVA is still pretty much what I thought it was but that it is fairly simple to configure. I now know that HP has two lines of deduplication appliances, and that one is homegrown. I now know that HP develops and sells a FC SAN virtualization platform based on the LSI/StoreAge product. This was great product exposure for HP: Even though I still don’t think I’ll focus on these offerings, at least I now know that they exist.
We also saw some more interesting content: HP plans to leverage their excellent ProLiant server and blade technology to underpin a line of commodity-based storage and consolidated virtualization offerings. This is exciting stuff, and builds on HP’s base and their recent acquisitions. The most interesting concept I saw was a combination of a blade chassis and ultra-dense storage system with VMware ESX, LeftHand, Ibrix, and HP’s management software. They definitely plan to challenge Cisco/EMC and IBM in this market.
But the best part of the event was the people of HP. The company was smart enough to bring in the techies rather than executive marketing droids. They gave us straight and honest answers about their product capabilities and their place within the company, sometimes to the chagrin of others in the room. We saw conflicting definitions, product line overlaps, internal competition, and got a feel for the realities of this massive company. Every company is like this, but most would never admit what we already know. By not showering us with slick FUD, HP won our respect in a way that I would not have thought possible.
The event was great. Every other IT company should wise up and do the same. But I bet they won’t have the nerve to do it as openly, and I expect HP will be more careful next time too. As for HP’s products, let me lay out my honest opinion:
- LeftHand was a bargain. HP could replace their entire sub-XP block storage product line with LeftHand variants based on commodity Intel hardware. I think they should.
- Ibrix is too new to judge, but will likely take a seat next to LeftHand in a unified commodity-based scale-out SAN/NAS platform.
- I hope HP hasn’t lost focus on their excellent Hitachi-based XP line, since it’s the only challenger they have to EMC Symmetrix at the high end of the market.
- HP’s excellent server and blade hardware should be leveraged throughout the company and oddball hardware should be curtailed.
- HP has an interesting lineup of Windows Storage Server and Windows Home Server hardware aimed at the low-end SOHO and SMB market. I’m not a Windows hater, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a super-low-end LeftHand variant there too?
- I wonder if HP’s home-grown in-line deduplication (the D2D line) could replace the Sepaton-sourced post-process VLS line or vice-versa if an acquisition of that company happens.
- I don’t “get” SVSP, the LSI/StoreAge SAN virtualization platform. It’s nice and it seems to work, but why introduce a FC SAN virtualization platform at this point? Maybe it sells when integrated with EVA, but not as a standalone product.
- Where are all the storage arrays that use 2.5″ disk drives that HP talked about over the last few years? And where are the flash solid state drives?
- They were like deer in the headlights with no story when I asked about sub-LUN automated tiered storage since even full-LUN automation has not yet been released. Might EMC get there first?
- As for the absence of DCB and FCoE, HP seems to think that Virtual Connect and Flex-10 are good enough for now. HP will OEM a CNA soon and might possibly consider the Cisco Nexus 4000. Maybe. They had better have a more-convincing story when this stuff takes off next year!
- Most importantly, where is the cloud strategy? I applaud HP for not overusing the current buzzword, but it almost seems like they are avoiding the topic entirely.
I am left thinking that HP is like a boxed puzzle. All of the pieces are there, but they haven’t been put into place yet. Let’s hope Dave Donatelli and his crew can help them work it out when he takes his post as czar of servers, networking, and storage next year. For now, I’ve gained a lot of respect for the people of HP and a pile of knowledge about their storage products. And HP has gained my attention.