HP made a series of strategic storage announcements at HP Discover 2011. The most important of these is a bold commitment to a converged storage strategy. This is laid out by HP as a key component of its converged infrastructure strategy, referred to by Wikibon as Infrastructure 2.0. This sets HP clearly on a path to compete on the overall cost of IT infrastructure (including storage), rather than just on the cost/performance characteristics of storage alone.
Wikibon has written extensively on storage directions in general, and the reversal of storage function migration in particular. For the last decade, the predominant storage model for enterprise computing has been shared storage with storage arrays and SAN switches, and storage function has continually migrated to the storage array. The reversal of storage function means that much (but of course not all) of the function will move above the channel and closer to the server, with some migration up to the storage network layer.
Another part of this trend is the move to an Infrastructure Services Model, as illustrated in Figure 1 below. The traditional stove-piped infrastructure model with separate islands of servers, storage, and networking is slowly being replaced by a virtualized self-service model, where the lines of business can define requirements for IT resources. These resources can be in-house (the private cloud) or external (the public cloud).
One of the key reasons that CEOs and CIOs are driving for this model is that a clear benchmark can be set for the cost performance of internal IT services. IT does not have to be cheaper than external services - often internal services can offer greater speed of transfer from one system to another, greater agility, greater security, and lower risk. However, this model provides a comparative measurement and knowledge of what any overhead is to the lines-of-business, and a way to see that the premium is worthwhile. Most organizations will use a mix of internal and external IT services.
While it is still early days, Wikibon’s overall analysis of HP’s converged storage long-term strategy is generally positive:
- Organizations that have HP server equipment in a significant portion of their data centers are likely to find the approach and business case compelling.
- Organizations in which storage is a very high portion of their general infrastructure costs may find converged solutions less useful and focus on best-of-breed storage;
- Large organizations that are looking for a strategic partner to build Infrastructure 2.0 will find that HP is one of vey few companies that can currently offer the breadth of server, storage, networking, infrastructure management software and services required for implementing converged infrastructure.
There is an overhead in buying into the HP strategy, the cost of being tied into a single strategic vendor and the difficulty of integrating point products that may be mandated by business necessity. However, Wikibon believes most organizations will find the size of the operational system cost reductions and will completely overshadow any savings from point storage solutions.
HP Converged Storage Strategy
HP’s converged storage strategy is built from standard Intel-based volume components together with the key storage technologies that it has acquired and developed. Figure 2 shows the key storage components, including:
- IBRIX, acquired in 2009 – cluster scaleout/scaleup NAS technology;
- LeftHand Networks, acquired in 2009 - iSCSI array technology;
- 3PAR Storage Arrays, acquired in 2009 - block-based storage high performance array technology with high storage efficiency;
- StoreOnce – file-based de-duplication developed by the in-house HP Laboratory;
- HP StorageWorks – a very broad range of storage hardware, software, and management technologies inherited from the merger between HP and Compaq, and extended by many smaller acquisitions.
HP’s converged storage strategy is implemented in three key stages:
- Identifying the key technologies from the pool of assets, porting them to a common hardware infrastructure, and repurposing the technologies in different virtual and physical configurations;
- Creating a framework to combine these technologies across the different parts of the system infrastructure as defined by application requirements;
- Combining servers, Virtual I/O, management, and converged storage to create “single-SKU” complete integrated application and infrastructure solutions with lower capital costs and far lower operational costs.
One of the important HP developments from this strategy is the Store360 Storage OS, shown in Figure 3.
The key characteristics of the Store360 technology are:
- Allowing physical or VM-based storage to be co-located with application servers;
- Providing independent scaling for NAS and SAN workloads and including de-duplication functionality;
- Allowing the nodes to scale non-disruptively to a maximum of 1,000 nodes;
- Supporting federated clusters to create metro-distance storage resource pools.
HP Store360 scale-out software is integrated with HP BladeSystem and HP ProLiant hardware to create HP’s converged storage architectures and a portfolio of solutions.
One of the portfolio offerings is Converged Virtual Storage, based on Store360, HP Systems Insight Manager (providing common device management integration) and Storage Provisioning Manager (SPM), providing an interface into the HP Matrix operating environment. This provides a choice of IBRIX or LeftHand storage tightly integrated into a converged systems virtual appliance.
Another offering is converged utility storage, which is a multi-tenant solution designed for cloud computing. HP CloudSystem management integration is provided with HP’s Storage Provisioning Manager and the Matrix Operating Environment. This allows the multi-tenant and extensive thin capabilities of the 3PAR arrays to be combined with the scale-out IBRIX NAS storage.
Other examples of HP solutions using this approach include the E5000 Messaging System for Microsoft Exchange (announced in March 2011) and X5000 G2 NAS Windows Storage Server, due to be shipped soon.
Wikibon concludes that converged storage is real and is a key strategic direction for HP. Several proof points in converged solutions have been announced. It is early days for the strategy, which must stand the test of time and the successful volume deployment of converged solutions. The key to success will be the business benefits and business case for converged storage, which is addressed in the next section.
Operational Simplification from Converged Storage
HP has emphasized the overall stack of server, network, and storage as the key area of optimization. If implemented correctly, one significant advantage of this approach is the reduction of management points that are required. In the traditional medium of large data center, the old model has created a large number of distinct operational support areas:
- Database administrators,
- Server administrators,
- Network administrators,
- Storage administrators.
With the emergence of virtualized infrastructure, an additional level has been added, the Hypervisor administrator (VMware, Hyper-V, Xen, etc).
CIOs implementing Infrastructure 2.0 are working hard to reduce these five layers down to one or two. For small applications only one layer will be required:
- Application administrator.
For larger applications two layers will probably be required:
- Application/database administrator;
- Infrastructure administrator.
Behind this is a requirement for simplification, and enabling the application and/or infrastructure administrator to see all the resources as it applies to the application, rather than the traditional LUNs, ports.
The potential result of this change in approach is to radically simplify the number of support people and the complexity of the management structure. Wikibon members have become increasingly frustrated within the current model by the requirement for meetings to sort problems out and the resulting propensity for finger-pointing. Virtualized environments impose a well-know processor tax of about 15%, and a less well-known storage tax of about 20%. Of course, the savings from virtualization are well worth this tax, but the result has been that storage is often found "guilty until proven otherwise".
The key advantage of the potential simplification of converged storage within a converged infrastructure environment is to eliminate these contention points and allow application and infrastructure managers to be responsible for the service level agreements (SLAs).
Another recommendation of CIOs who are seriously virtualizing infrastructures is to separate out the infrastructure design and planning team from the operational team. This was more difficult to do with so many different management points. The converged infrastructure framework makes it easier to have a separate architecture and planning function to define and optimize Infrastructure 2.0 for their organization.
Wikibon Assessment of the HP Converged Storage Strategy
Wikibon’s overall analysis of HP’s converged storage strategy is generally very positive. It is early days in this new strategy, and HP will have to show an increasing volume of solutions based on it before users have complete confidence. The underlying storage provides most, but not all, of the advanced storage functionality that is available in the market. For example, HP is a little weak in the area of compression and de-duplication of primary storage as well as the implementation of integrated solutions based on flash storage. Overall, however, the storage functionality is very sound, and the X9000 IBRIX NAS technology has received a major facelift to improve its scale-out and content/archive capabilities.
Wikibon believes that organizations that have installed HP server equipment for a significant portion of their data centers compute requirements will find the converged infrastructure approach compelling. The integration of HP servers, HP converged storage, the storage management framework, and the Virtual Connect technology with other storage network components make a powerful combination that will simplify and reduce operational staff costs significantly.
Organizations where storage is a very high portion of their general infrastructure costs may find converged infrastructure offerings less attractive. In these cases the best strategy will be to evaluate the best storage fit for the business requirements.
Large organizations that are looking for a strategic partner to build Infrastructure 2.0 will find that HP is one of very few companies at the moment that offer the breadth of server, storage, networking, infrastructure management software and services that will enable any mix of infrastructure components to be assembled and maintained. An evaluation of potential partners is give in the Wikibon Professional Alert Converged Infrastructure and the Rule of One.
Action Item: Wikibon believes that HP’s converged storage strategy is real, and if implemented successfully will result in an increasing number of converged systems solutions from HP over the coming years. The wide range of solutions and technologies available will allow IT organizations to select more cost-effective solutions to develop an effective Infrastructure 2.0 deployment. There is an overhead in buying into the a converged infrastructure strategy: the cost of being tied in to a single strategic vendor and the difficulty of integrating point storage solutions from other vendors when there is a business imperative to deploy devices that have specific functional or cost characteristics. However, Wikibon believes that most organizations will find an adequate breadth of converged solutions available, and the size of the operational system cost reductions will completely overshadow any savings from taking best-of-breed storage solutions without integration.