Storage made simple

IT Weekly spoke to HP’s Rick Steffens and Bob Wilson about how they are bringing the technology giant’s philosophy of simplicity and manageability to the Middle East

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By  Published  November 17, 2006

As with almost every area of its business, HP’s storage division has been making impressive gains this year. With almost US$1.42 billion in sales during the second quarter, HP was ranked by IDC as number one in worldwide total disk storage systems for the 17th consecutive quarter with 24% market share and 9.2% revenue growth year-on-year. Within this market, HP has made significant headway in the total external disk storage systems sector, moving into a statistical tie with EMC for the number one spot in Q2, according to figures from IDC. The market research firm’s numbers showed HP experiencing double-digit factory revenue growth compared to EMC’s 3%.

One area HP’s storage division has been focusing its efforts on is the small and medium-sized business (SMB) space. With the cost of network attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SANs) coming down, it is now more feasible for SMBs to look at these technologies — opening up new revenue streams for HP and other vendors.

HP recently released its StorageWorks AiO (All-in-One) storage system that combines NAS, an iSCSI SAN, data protection and storage management all in one system. The vendor initially designed the system for SMBs, but claims AiO is also a good fit for other companies in regions like the Middle East. IT Weekly went to speak to Rick Steffens (RS), HP vice president and general manager of Storage Area Networks, and Bob Wilson (BW), HP Nearline Division vice president of StorageWorks, during their recent trip to the Middle East to find out more.

Can we talk about recent developments in HP’s storage division, what have you been focusing on here?
RS:The most recent thing we have is the announcement of our All-in-One (AiO) storage product. It is indicative of what we are trying to do across the broader range of our products and services. It is a product that no one has ever introduced, it is out first product in this space and what it does is combine three particular functions [file serving, shared storage array, and data protection functions] that are important to customers into a single function.

But the really big benefit of this is we take all the experience we have in managing other people’s storage environments and we build it into this product.

For instance, the product can see how many Exchange mail boxes there are in a company’s environment and it has the smarts to, based on the number of mail boxes, servers and storage devices, automatically configure the setting in Outlook to optimise that environment. A lot of customers install this and say, ‘why is my performance better with this product than it is with something else?’ It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the hardware piece of the product, but it is this intelligence we can build into it because we have all that experience.

What we are trying to do is take the features and functions people normally expect to see in the high-end and bring them down to the low-end, but in a way that is easy to use. Then what we are trying to do is take the ease of use that we learned for the very low-end and take this up to the high-end, because administrators appreciate it when technology is not as hard to use. We are kind of unique in that we have this full range of products and services so we can drive innovation in both directions.

BW: The product is really targeted at customers who are expanding their storage. These customers have two choices really. They can expand the storage within the servers — their file server, database server, e-mail server — independently, which can cause management headaches, or they can put in a storage area network (SAN).

A lot of mid-range customers actually do this, but for smaller customers that is a lot of infrastructure.

What this product does is add storage that customers can then map. So they can add storage to their network attached storage (NAS), add storage to their applications, to their e-mail, all in one box. And they can then even set data protection characteristics around that data. So do they want to back data up just by making a copy of it? Do they want to back it up by moving it to tape drive or a library? All of this can be set up within one box. It is really trying to make it simple for small to medium-sized customers to expand their storage without the need for system administrators.

How successful has HP been with this strategy?
RS: If you just look at the market numbers, last quarter our mid-range arrays grew 27% worldwide, the market grew 14%, so we are growing faster than the market. At the high-end we grew 19%; the market grew 3%.

The interesting thing is we are growing faster in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) than we are in other places in the world. We have the largest market share here, we are number one across the board, and we continue to grow faster than the market.

I think the reason for this really is our focus on helping small and medium-sized customers. There are more small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in this region than in the US — the US tends to be more large companies — and our focus on getting good easy-to-use programmes across the board — and when we say easy to use we mean end-to-end, not just a particular piece of the solution. So it is not just the storage for AiO, but it is also data protection, and then realising these are all functions that a customer has to do. I think that is what is driving us.

BW: In terms of our regional strategy, we were also pretty early investing in the region and this has given us a head start. A lot of our competitors like EMC, NetApp, and Dell are a little more US-centric. They are just starting to get into more emerging markets, where we’ve been in them for a while because of our wide portfolio of printers, PCs, servers and storage. We have been able to get a head start in a lot of emerging regions.

What will be the key focus areas for HP’s storage division going forward?
RS: We are really focusing on the whole solution, whatever pieces of that we need. So for instance, we have groups working on hardware and all the different interfaces that people are trying to do and just keeping up with performance requirements. But then we also have a significant investment on the software side, because in reality that is what the customer sees. How do I protect my data? You can’t do that with just hardware, you have to have the software solutions that go with it.

One of the other big software pushes we have is helping people manage both storage and servers in exactly the same way. So we have created a management interface that lets customers manage their storage and their servers together, that is called Storage Essentials.

We also have a big investment in helping people manage information. So for instance, one of the applications we have is e-mail archiving. So your e-mail comes in and we push it off. A lot of people do that part, help you categorise it and get it on the right storage.

What we really focus on, and where the big difference is, is we help customers retrieve it easily. So if a company wants to find out every e-mail it received in the last three years on HP, it just goes into this system and types in HP.

As an example, we had Nasdaq search over a billion e-mails in less than three seconds recently. How you store data is easy, but what we focus on is how do we help customers retrieve it because that is really what is going to make a difference for them. And it is not just e-mail, we can also do this with regular files, we have a vertical solution in medical and so on.

BW: It is a real example of the ‘solution’, because it is not just a piece of software, it’s an integrated hardware/software combination that is needed to provide this functionality. The only way we can get that very high performance in retrieval is to know a lot about the hardware we are storing it on and architect it accordingly.

The problem with archiving generally is the bigger your archive gets the harder it is to get the information out. The more and more you store, the more you have to sort through.

AiO is a grid-based architecture so no one node gets too big. When you send a request out you send it out to the fabric, every node looks for that request and the one that has the information sends it back. It is an example of where we have architected a product so that we are not just focused on software or hardware, we are focused on creating a solution.

What is the purpose of your trip to the region?
RS: Mostly our trip is to visit customers and make sure we understand what is going on in the region and find out what unique needs are here compared to other places so we can do a better job of designing our products.

What are your conclusions about the Middle East?
RS: We’ve found out that the Middle East is a lot like everywhere else. We have been to some countries where basic infrastructure is a problem. With arrays we do a lot of remote replication and some of the countries without infrastructure don’t have lines that stay up all the time so we’ve identified that we need to do stuff that makes things like that easier for companies in countries that don’t have the infrastructure.

The other thing we are noticing is that lots of companies want to make sure they can interface with other companies, either with the bigger companies in the UK or US. And so things like continuity and meeting the financial requirements of a company that is US-based are very important. If Middle East companies want to interface with US or UK companies they have to meet the same standards such as business continuity, having disaster recovery plans, those kinds of things.

US companies are pushing requirements placed on them by US regulators down to their suppliers. It is something that is increasing business for us and other vendors all around the world.

BW: One of the differences that we have seen is there are a lot more greenfield sites here, less legacy systems to deal with. You go to a big US company and they’ve got mainframes in place, they’ve been buying computers for 20 years. A lot of the customers here, they are moving from small systems to larger systems and they don’t have a lot of legacy and environments that they need supporting. They also generally want to move pretty fast; things in the region are moving pretty fast. What we see here in emerging regions is infrastructure goes from nothing to a lot very fast. Once the decisions are made, which usually require governmental-type approval, once those are made the tendency is that it ramps very quickly.

Which countries are lacking infrastructure?
RS: We were in Turkey and Hungary, both of those; Russia has some of the same problems in remote locations.

I think the Middle East has the same problems in some of its more remote countries — Kuwait is a good example.

How do the developments in HP’s storage division relate to the way it is addressing the Middle East?
RS: We initially started thinking about AiO because of the lack of infrastructure we noticed in some countries, but what we found is it is also a very low cost implementation, so it has applicability to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) where they can’t afford a high priced line.

So while we initially did it because of infrastructure problems we are finding that it is applicable everywhere, especially smaller countries and especially in a place like Dubai or Saudi Arabia where there are lots of small companies starting to grow up.

And we are one of the few companies that can generate a low cost solution like this. I think we have a lot of focus on making sure we get a lot of value for money and also on lowering the initial purchase price, especially for smaller companies and companies that are more distributed.

With AiO, customers get a terabyte for US$5,000, that is a new price point with this level of functionality in the industry by a long shot. We are really trying to drive the prices down and come up with solutions that make sense for people who don’t have some of the access the bigger companies in the US and UK have. So driving down the initial purchase price is important, but so is lowering the cost of maintaining the technology over time.

I think that is what we can do in a region like the Middle East where you can’t afford IT administrators, they want to focus on their piece of the business and not how do they manage their data centre.

BW: Customer needs are fairly consistent. What tends to be different is where these needs are acute. Like, for example, in the Middle East it is a little harder to get IT trained professionals at the growth rate that IT is growing so therefore simplicity, manageability, all that stuff tends to be a higher focus than lets say the UK. Everyone wants simplicity, but where they place it in their priority list tends to vary depending on the environment.

What is the alternative to the high-speed line?
RS: It is a difference in infrastructure. So today companies use a technology called fibre channel to transfer data and vendors like Cisco have expensive switches that will let firms do this over long distances. With our mid range array we added another interface called iSCSI, which simply lowers the cost of doing the remote replication. Because iSCSI is a cheaper interface than fibre channel, more available and with more people selling it, you get better price competition. This makes it easier to bring the scale and the cost way down. We are seeing a lot of demand for this in areas where we thought initially, but also applications in areas that we didn’t think about.

In terms of the customers HP has in the region, what vertical sectors is it seeing the most business in?
RS: We are seeing a lot of business in horizontal applications for vertical segments. Primarily everybody needs e-mail, so we have this e-mail retrieval system that we talked about. We also spend a lot of time doing similar things with databases.

BW: We are seeing a lot of interest from cellular companies, which is obviously a high growth area in the region. Obviously there is a big demand in banking and finance — that is a very hot segment for us.

What developments in technology is HP going to drive over the next few years?
RS: One is to continue to have very easy solutions that focus on helping customers retrieve versus helping them store information. Another is security. When do things need to be secure? How do they need to be secure? — This is one area we are really focused on.

BW: One of the other areas we are focusing a lot of our energy on is manageability. Right now we have a good level of functionality with our manageability suites, but really what you want to be able to do is to drill down deeper into the product so you can manage more and more and also to automate that manageability so you are not even doing anything.

“We are seeing a lot of interest from cellular companies, which is obviously a high growth area in the region. Obviously there is a big demand in banking and finance — that is a very hot segment for us.”

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