HP Tackles Support Challenges Of Virtualized Server Environments

Hewlett-Packard on Tuesday took the wraps off HP Critical Advantage, a support services package that helps companies deal with the complexities --and emergencies -- that can arise when running mission critical apps in virtualized x86 server environments.

HP Critical Advantage is designed to help customers deal with and work through problems when they strike, but the larger goal is to help companies plan ahead to avoid running into the common pitfalls associated with running mission critical apps in virtualized environments, according to Flynn Maloy, director of marketing for HP Technology Services

"When you bring in the virtual layer, you see complexity go up, and mission critical apps require different perspective on how to manage IT," Maloy said in an interview. "HP Critical Advantage enables clients to run business critical apps with improved performance and availability."

Usage of x86 and blade servers has surged in recent years as companies have awoken to the cost and scalability advantages that virtualization offers. Comfortable with the idea of virtualization, companies are now moving more critical apps into these environments, but they often aren't prepared to handle issues like performance bottlenecks and unplanned downtime, and they're getting burned by this lack of planning.

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When an HP Critical Advantage customer encounters problems, they can obtain 24/7 phone support and incident resolution from trained experts in HP's Mission Critical Solution Center. HP Critical Advantage also includes a set of proactive services delivered by an assigned HP account team, which identify common pain points in the customer experience, such as firmware.

Firmware revision management can be a real challenge for customers, says Myles Harper, business development manager for HP Technology Services. "Firmware needs to be current and compatible with other firmware in the environment, and so we do revision analysis and make sure they are where they need to be in that environment," he said.

HP Critical Advantage also includes readiness assessment and capacity planning services for companies that have yet to take the leap into virtualization, and performance optimization services for those that have already done so.

"It's an awareness of what they're doing today, future growth demand and understanding what your peaks and valleys look like and how to account for them," Harper said. "What's really important is having the right skill set and process in place to ensure that once you move apps to virtualization, you're going to have the performance and reliability you require."

HP's Services Sales Elite partners will sell HP Critical Advantage to their customers, and they're confident that HP is filling an important gap in the marketplace.

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William Loupakos, senior vice president of professional Services at American Digital Corporation, has seen customers moving from mission critical supported systems to blade systems without following the same services methodology. "They're running mission critical apps like SAP and Oracle on these systems. When the systems go down, they realize they don’t have the right services and support contract," he said.

In virtualized environments, when a blade server goes down, customers replace it with a spare blade they have on a rack without realizing the firmware implications of the change, Loupakos said. "There are issues with firmware that have to be considered, and we've seen entire chassis go down along with mission critical apps, because they're treating it as a commodity server," he said.

Paul Shoberg, director of sales at Bloomington, Minn.-based IT solution provider Works Computing, says the industry was late in recognizing this trend. "A lot of virtualization is happening on industry standard servers, but the challenge we've always had has been lack of support for these products. With Critical Advantage, I'm solving a customer need that hasn’t been addressed before," he said.

HP Critical Advantage is now available through HP Technology Services, but HP isn't offering detailed information about pricing. HP says it will offer Critical Advantage "support levels based on needs and budget".