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HP and Virtualization: A Problem for Every Solution

It might not be true that there's a solution for every problem. But in the technology industry, that's not really such a big deal. What matters in tech is that there's a problem for every solution.

You've probably noticed that while software vendors love to refer to their applications as "solutions," we jaded, ink- (or pixel-?) stained wretches use words like "applications," "offerings" or even "wares." (We don't say "programs" much anymore because "software program" just sounds like something that would run from a floppy disk -- the original kind -- on a computer with 64K of memory. But we digress.)

A very important component of selling software applications, as any partner knows, is identifying problems -- preferably problems clients didn't know they had -- and then, infomercial style, whipping out a "solution" (with some services included, of course) to solve those problems. Most of the time, that's a totally legitimate practice, as companies sometimes don't realize how much more efficient and profitable a certain application, along with some guidance about it, can make them.

But sometimes those "solutions" cause problems of their own, problems that need solving by, well, another "solution" or application or whatever you want to call it. And that's what HP is talking about this week as it beefs up its Business Service Automation (or BSA, not to be confused with the Boy Scouts of America) line of software to cover virtualization storage and operations. The left-coast vendor invited a few press types, your editor included, to its Marlborough, Mass. location this week to talk about the problems virtualization can cause and how HP's applications can solve them.

Another digression here: HP's Marlborough site is a low-slung, rambling facility that sits at the edge of the earth, on the very fringe of what might be considered Greater Boston, with the hills of Western Massachusetts (and, presumably, oblivion for many Bostonians) beckoning on the horizon. The place has cubicle farms that would make Monsanto jealous -- apparently, almost everybody at HP, including a lot of executives, has a cubicle rather than an office -- and a bit of history, as well.

RCA originally built the building, which digital (yes, the long-lamented digital Equipment Corp., small "d," please) later bought. If you stand perfectly still, you can almost hear digital Co-Founder Ken Olsen saying, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home," a quote that's usually taken way out of context but is nonetheless pretty darn funny. Anyway, the ghosts of technology past roam in Marlborough, harkening back to the days when Boston-based companies mostly dominated the tech world, before Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and a bunch of other people yanked the industry to the other side of the country. End digression.

Some smart folks from HP spent much of the three hours or so that this get-together consumed talking about the problems virtualization causes. Oh, they understand the problems it solves. But their point -- and it seems valid -- is that virtualization might cut technology costs, but it can actually drive up operations and management costs if left to grow like kudzu.

Basically, the message is that virtualization is complex, and finding the right people to administrate it can be difficult; and for all the good that virtualization does, it can actually be a bit of a nightmare when not properly managed. Hypervisors are easy to set up, which is nice, but that ease of setup can lead to excessive proliferation of virtual machines, as well as a network of connections to servers, storage and the network that becomes unmanageable, with the connections themselves becoming very hard to detect and manage.

"In the physical IT environment, if you needed additional capacity for a marketing program you were going to run, you expected a month to get that capacity," said Bob Meyer, worldwide lead for HP virtualization solutions. "Now, with a server and hypervisor, I can set it up in minutes. I can set up a server much faster, but I'm really just pushing bottlenecks. I have a new environment, much more mobile, much harder to see."

That sounds like a problem. "Virtualization and daily operation overhead are the things that yield a monthly bill," added Michel Feaster, senior director of products for HP's Business Service Automation line. "That is a cost that will only increase unless you do something dramatically different. Customers get into production and see an explosion in their storage costs. Storage is allocated but unutilized. The capacity for each virtual machine is often not used."

Hmm, that's another problem. There were actually a bunch more, but you get where we're going with this. Virtualization is a "solution" that needs another "solution." And for HP, that other solution is automation. Forrester Senior Analyst Glenn O'Donnell, who also made the trip to Marlborough, chimed in that, "We see virtualization and automation being inextricably linked. There's no way to separate the two. You cannot do virtualization without automation."

Well, then. Good thing HP is on the case. The two latest additions to BSA, announced this week and already available, are all about virtualization automation. HP Storage Essentials discovers virtual servers and provisions storage to virtual machines. The idea is to optimize storage capacity and allocation in virtual datacenters, thereby eliminating that problem of paying too much for unused storage.

HP Operations Orchestration (we'll refrain from calling it HPOO) automates workflows and repurposes servers and storage. Operations Orchestration users management interfaces from virtualization vendors, including VMware, Microsoft and Citrix. The goal, again, is to let companies reduce operational costs and, ultimately, help IT develop an internal cloud of services that would replace the notion of having individual pieces of infrastructure dedicated to particular departments or tasks.

"Provisioning servers is tactical, but changing business services is strategic to the business," Feaster said.

And, HP says, it's a solution to a problem caused by a solution. Or something like that.

What's your take on virtualization automation? Where are you in your rollout of virtualization technology? Share your story at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 04/09/2009 at 1:22 PM


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