HP Counters Cisco With New Data Center Play

Hewlett-Packard uncorked a counterpunch Wednesday in its ongoing battle with Cisco for data center supremacy, lifting the curtain on the HP Converged Infrastructure Architecture to tap into what HP calls "a $35 billion market opportunity" to solve the issue of IT sprawl.

A day earlier, Cisco launched a joint venture called the Virtual Computing Environment coalition with EMC and VMware, potentially challenging the likes of HP and IBM with a powerhouse combination of storage, security and virtualization capabilities that tie into Cisco's own Unified Computing System (UCS) fabric.

Just as San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco is pitching its new venture's ability to increase data center efficiency, so too is HP targeting a market it claims is hungry to reduce the cost of maintaining existing IT infrastructure, said Deborah Nelson, a senior vice president of marketing for Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP's Enterprise Business unit.

"Two-thirds of [IT] budgets are spent on maintenance, just keeping the lights on," she said. "The HP Converged Infrastructure Architecture allows you to roll out application environments a lot more quickly."

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Nelson also pointed to energy efficiency and networking advantages to be had with HP's newly integrated fabric for the data center, as well as a better means of scaling IT up or down to meet the needs of challenging economic times.

"Today, businesses have to increasingly navigate an unpredictable market. In the past, markets were much more predictable, so you could plan with some amount of time for an upturn or a downturn," Nelson said. "Now you have to be ready for both. And technology can really help companies navigate those waters."

HP's new one-stop data center offering includes server and storage consolidation through HP FlexFabric process-standardization via the new HP Infrastructure Operating Environment product suite, virtualization management courtesy of HP Virtual Resource Pools, and the HP Data Center Smart Grid's "intelligent" path to energy efficiency.

The computing giant is specifically stressing opportunities for channel partners as it goes to market with the HP Converged Infrastructure Architecture portfolio, Nelson said. Solution providers partnering with HP on the offering will be able to tap into new demand-generation programs and sales tools associated with the portfolio, according to HP.

One such partner is ePlus Technology, a Herndon, Va.-based HP partner that worked closely with the vendor on the new data center offering ahead of its official launch.

"We've been working with HP on the architecture, on how to bring things together and just getting prepared as a partner," said Mark Melvin, CTO of ePlus. "From our perspective, it's just a continuation of what we've been doing on virtualization with HP and VMware and others over the years. This ties it together in a neat package."

While ePlus counts itself as "HP Elite" in a number of the vendor's PartnerOne program designations, including Blade Systems, Enterprise Storage and Virtualization Solutions, the solution provider won't be able to add "Converged Infrastructure Elite" to its credentials. HP has no plans to add such a category to PartnerOne in the immediate future, Nelson said.

Perhaps HP should rethink that, suggested Melvin.

"We would see [Converged Infrastructure Elite] as one that we would immediately go after, should HP create an Elite designation," he said.

Meanwhile, even as HP and Cisco seem ever intent to go to war over the literal fabric of the data center, a much smaller vendor claimed this week to have a "third way" for unifying data center infrastructure.

Liquid Computing is now offering a nonproprietary, unified computing alternative to the Cisco and HP offerings, according to Vikram Desai, president of the Ottawa, Ontario-based company. Liquid Elements, the vendor's open-standard data center fabric, now supports third-party hardware, namely Intel's Xeon 5500-based modularized rack server system and NetApp storage devices.

Desai was particularly critical of Cisco's new joint venture.

"I see the intent of the Virtual Computing Environment coalition is to accelerate brand lock-in. It is a cartel that removes a customer's ability to choose and leverage multiple suppliers in pursuit of the best solution for them," he said Tuesday.