HP takes a LeftHand turn to produce first scalable iSCSI storage for blades

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Written By: Peter Williams
Published: 20th April, 2009
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

HP has been rapidly absorbing iSCSI vendor LeftHand Networks since its takeover was announced late last year and the first fruits demonstrate a change of direction in storage for HP.

The combination of HP x86 hardware and LeftHand iSCSI SAN/iQ software has given rise to the HP LeftHand P4000 SAN solution series to be released worldwide through the HP channel on May Day.

IDC estimated the iSCSI storage segment at almost $1.5Bn in 2008 as well as being the fastest growing connectivity type. Place that finding alongside three-quarters of virtualised server users planning to buy new storage within two years and a majority of these wanting IP SANs—and the need to get into iSCSI was an HP no brainer. In fact there is a lot riding on this.

LeftHand is a very good fit because, as well as specialising in iSCSI, it has already deployed SAN/iQ heavily though not exclusively on HP x86 hardware. Larry Cormier, VP of Marketing at Lefthand, told me: "We went for HP products because we thought they would ride Moore's Law in cost per GB savings; and so it has proved."

However, the two companies' joint development has taken this further to produce an industry-first of scalable, highly available, rack-mounted blade storage. The HP LeftHand P4000 series is based on Network RAID with resilience to keep storage available despite controller, server or chassis failures. 100s of clustered drives can be managed as a single infrastructure.

The software, now known as HP LeftHand P4000 Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA), is deployed on HP StorageWorks SB40c storage blade bundle and supports thin provisioning (‘buy as you need'), remote replication and snapshotting. It is integrated with VMware HA.

A single centralised management console controls the storage infrastructure, providing a virtual representation of the physical pool. Using blades in this way provides far more storage capacity per blade server, while the general advantages of blade—leaner, greener, less wiring and so on—make the overall package simpler and more self-contained to manage.

At the same time, HP has been reorganising its storage operations. The new ‘Unified Storage Division' will bring together its NAS and Fibre Channel (FC) groups and I was assured there would be no financial incentives, for instance, for selling FC rather than iSCSI or vice-versa.

Here in Europe in particular, iSCSI is virtually a green field market for both parties. So education is a bigger challenge than in the US—for both HP's channel and potential iSCSI purchasers—not least in explaining why they should go for the HP iSCSI/blade combination. Gerhard Keller, HP's manager of volume storage in EMEA, said: "A lot of education is needed and there is a 6–9 month adoption curve." He said the company was running trainee roadshows with both sales and technical training.

HP can also expect plenty of competitive activity from the other major hardware vendors. But Keller said: "Other vendors are margin-focused so it will be difficult for them," and added, "HP's 0% financing option makes this more cost effective."

The P4300 storage systems are entry-level SAS and SATA starter SANs with cluster nodes. The P4500 consists of a storage virtualisation SAN, multi-site SAN and nodes. Other P4000 options include Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) for VMware, remote replication for remote offices and a 10Gb Ethernet upgrade kit.

Placing LeftHand's iSCSI into virtualised HP blade storage pools in this way would seem to have plenty going for it. Clearly, the HP LeftHand P4000 series is no hastily cobbled-together product set but the result of a well thought-through strategy which has been swiftly executed.

I will watch with interest how this market develops in 2009.

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