HP, Cisco Partner for Utility Computing

HP, IBM, and Sun market competing infrastructures for utility computing

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) yesterday announced a new partnership with networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. to promote its Utility Data Center (UDC) utility computing initiative.

HP also sought to draw attention to UDC, especially in the face of utility computing initiatives from IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Under the new partnership, HP and Cisco have pledged to jointly develop products to support or enhance UDC. The idea, says Nick van der Zweep, HP’s director of utility computing, is to provide customers with a UDC solution optimized for Cisco’s networking gear.

Van der Zweep concedes that some partnerships are little more than a word and a piece of paper, but says that in this case, HP and Cisco are backing up their agreement with millions of dollars in R&D investments. “[Cisco is] investing multi-millions of dollars with us into UDC to make their products work with it even better than they do today.”

As a result, van der Zweep explains, Cisco and HP will be able to cross-sell one another’s products to customers that implement infrastructures based on UDC: “We support a certain number of products with UDC, and they want their products to be better supported, so they want R&D into that. They’re also educating their customers about UDC, so we can do cross-selling.”

Utility Computing on the Move

“Utility computing” is a concept that describes the virtualization of computing resources—such as storage, servers and networks—to increase performance, lower costs, and enhance manageability.

As an infrastructure for utility computing, HP’s UDC is similar to the E-business On Demand and N1 utility computing models touted by IBM and Sun respectively. There’s a catch, however: HP first announced UDC in November 2001—slightly less than a year before IBM unwrapped E-business On Demand. Sun first disclosed its plans for N1 in February 2002.

Van der Zweep acknowledges that his company has kept a relatively low profile as other vendors have introduced utility computing solutions—in spite of the fact, he stresses, that HP was technically first out of the gate. The upshot, he claims, is that HP has been shipping utility computing solutions for more than a year now: “IBM and Sun have been more vocal about their vision and less vocal about where are the products that actually execute on that [vision].”

Like the utility computing visions announced by IBM and Sun, UDC describes a self-adapting, self-healing, and policy-driven architecture. Like the utility architectures touted by IBM and Sun, UDC automates the provisioning and management of computing resources.

Finally, UDC—like any utility computing infrastructure worth its salt—purports to support a heterogeneous mix of computing resources. That’s why partnering with vendors such as Cisco is important, van der Zweep says.

To ensure UDC support for heterogeneous systems, van der Zweep oversees a number of test labs in which non-HP equipment is tested for interoperability. In addition, HP’s service support personnel are authorized to write drivers to facilitate the integration of non-HP gear into the UDC infrastructure. ”If you say, 'I want IBM with an AIX system,' we’ve armed our field consulting system with the ability to write those drivers on a per-customer basis on-demand in the field, and then we’ll take those drivers into the lab and do testing on them.”

He says that HP will release a software development kit so that systems integrators and other non-HP vendors can integrate their offerings with UDC.

Richard Partridge, VP of enterprise servers with consultancy D.H. Brown Associates, says that HP has thus far “been doing fairly well moving [UDC] into the engineering spaces in corporations.”

Partridge allows that utility computing is still in its nascent stages, however, and cautions that vendors such as HP, IBM and Sun haven’t yet introduced products and technologies that deliver on the full promise of utility computing in their own product and service lines, let alone those of their competitors.

At the same time, he allows, utility computing is going to “evolve into a gotta-do-it-at-any-cost technology” as customers seek to “optimize, tune and refine" their infrastructures.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.