HP Banks on Computing Power, Green Features to Spearhead BI, DW Excellence

DM pros might not have much interest in hardware, but -- like it or not -- hardware plays an important role in BI and DW performance and budgets

Even for a BI pro such as John Santaferraro, who heads the business intelligence (BI) marketing practice for Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), it's surprising that so few folks who work with BI and data warehousing care about the hardware that powers their work. Many BI and DW pros can't feign even polite interest in the subject, Santaferraro says.

At a time when IT folk are minding their greenhouse gas (GHG) Ps and Qs, hardware is more important than ever, Santaferraro argues. With BI and DW seen as critical in many organizations -- with BI and DW responsible for big chunks of an average enterprise data center's GHG emissions -- hardware is an especially important topic.

Santaferraro isn't saying as much just because he believes that HP -- with its decade of system-building and infrastructure expertise -- has a hardware ace up its sleeve, either.

"There's no question that we want to build from our infrastructure success [in hardware] and leverage that in business intelligence and data warehousing," he concedes. HP isn't just talking about big, fast servers. Anyone can build them, he says, stressing that HP is focusing on density, availability, and fault-tolerance, three qualities that -- with its blade market leadership and NonStop hardware and software assets -- it can claim an especial familiarity with. HP, after all, is tops in blades: according to market-watcher IDC, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP controls nearly half of the entire blade market in terms of both unit shipments and revenues.

According to Gartner Inc., blade sales are soaring through the roof -- in part because customers are turning to blades (with their integrated power and cooling feature set) to help them rein in GHG emissions, conserve data center real-estate, and, of course, cut their data center power bills. Santaferraro also points to the company's partnership with Oracle to deliver a data warehouse reference architecture -- the HP BladeSystem for Oracle Optimized Warehouse (OOW) -- for the 1 to 4 TB market.

This isn't your garden-variety appliance competitor's 1 to 4 TB configuration, argues Santaferraro: it's based on HP BladeSystem hardware that boasts built-in thermal dynamic management features. "When you think about it, HP BladeSystem is an ideal platform for an appliance. It's an enclosure, it's a 13" or 17" box, it's got all of the server components, all of the storage components, all of the networking built in; all of the management is built in, and it even has built-in thermodynamic features. It's extremely good in terms of thermal efficiency," he argues.

"It really is a data warehouse-in-a-box for customers that who to move in that direction," Santaferraro points out. There's a further wrinkle here, he argues: it could soon cost more to power a server or storage array over its lifetime than to purchase that system upfront. In this situation, Santaferraro and HP argue, blade configurations -- which are cheaper overall to power relative to the performance they deliver -- smell that much sweeter.

"When we launched the Oracle Optimized Warehouse, we had 60 percent better energy efficiency than our competition. That's huge. From a cost-of-energy perspective, you're spending 35 to 40 cents on a dollar [for BladeSystem] compared to the competition," he says. "We're reaching a point in the industry right now where it costs as much to power a server or storage over the life of that component than it does to acquire it up front. Energy is more important just in terms of a sheer cost perspective, not to mention the overall carbon footprint, the greenhouse gasses that are being emitted.

"With [BladeSystem's] energy efficiency, its flexibility -- it is an absolutely fantastic platform for an appliance-like offering, because in that enclosure you can determine what kind of server capabilities you need, what kind of storage mix, how can you create a balanced configuration. Once you have it, you have incredible flexibility inside that box to be able to power database appliances."

That's HP's scalable, eco-friendly pitch. Its availability and fault-tolerant pitch comes courtesy of its Neoview appliance, which is based on a combination of HP's Integrity server line (powered by 64-bit Itanium 2 chips from Intel Corp.) and the NonStop operating system and database software it inherited from the former Tandem Computer Corp.

NonStop Integrity gives HP a fault-tolerant computing platform that rivals the z/OS mainframe operating system and System z hardware from IBM, HP officials argue. NonStop itself is used to power a clear majority (approximately 70 percent) of ATM transactions, along with a similar chunk of credit card transactions. Both workloads demand continuous availability and real-time (or near-real-time) responsiveness.

For these and other reasons, Santaferraro claims, NonStop is a killer platform for a DW appliance. "I think that Neoview obviously was built … on a fault-tolerant database that was really architected for this new world of BI, where it's not just a matter of having to load the data into the data warehouse once a day or twice a day -- it's happening in real-time," he says.

"A lot of the legacy data warehouse systems -- and even some of the data warehouse systems that our competitors are building -- are built and architected for specific kinds of queries, for large queries. They weren't architected for mixed queries or for all of the data warehousing workloads in existence today."

HP recently announced a line of NonStop Integrity blades. Its vanilla BladeSystem offerings run 64-bit x86 chips from Intel and can host most 32-bit or 64-bit x86-compliant operating environments. Its Integrity systems, on the other hand, run HP's high-end operating environments: HP-UX, NonStop, and OpenVMS. At the time, several industry watchers hailed the idea of putting NonStop on a blade. Industry veteran Gordon Haff, a senior IT advisor with consultancy Illuminata, said NonStop on a blade gives HP one of the most credible mainframe alternatives developed by a hardware reseller today.

With this in mind, the combination of Neoview and HP's Integrity blades seems like a can't-miss proposition. At this point, however, HP doesn't actually market a Neoview-based blade solution. Can't-miss proposition or no, Santaferraro claims he can't say much more than that.

"Neoview … has always been [based on] our standard Integrity servers, combined with our standard storage systems that we're selling other people," he comments. "But, yes, there isn't currently a Neoview blade version, and I'm not sure … just how much I can say about our roadmap [right now]."

What does Santaferraro think of the potential cannibalization between what HP is doing with its BladeSystem for OOW and Neoview? Not surprisingly, he doesn't think it's an issue.

"It's not that size is everything, but that is one differentiator [between OOW and Neoview]," he points out. "The Oracle Optimized Warehouse was targeted at 1, 2, 3, and 4 TB modules; the Neoview implementations tend to be larger than that range, so there really is no cannibalization, no overlap," he says.

"The other significant differentiation [is that] the Neoview implementations we do tend to focus more on enterprise data warehousing, tend to be a little bit larger of a company, [tend to involve more] mixed workloads. We don't really see much overlap at all between the market that OOW is going after and Neoview."

If the importance of hardware has long been a dirty little secret in the BI and DW segments, it probably won't be in the future, Santaferraro argues. First, a pair of trends -- both ecological and economical -- will compel IT organizations (and possibly data management pros) to pay more attention to the "green" or cost-saving benefits of their hardware underpinnings.

Another driver is, paradoxically, abstraction: customers are tired of heterogeneous BI and DW platforms that are rife with heterogeneous headaches, he says. What they want -- and what appliance vendors haven't been able to deliver -- is turnkey BI or DW, which involves not just "solutions" that work (within limits) out of the box, but which can be centrally managed, too.

"Our customers have consistently come to us and asked us to make it simpler for them to deliver infrastructure. In the custom world, it's a very challenging thing for a customer to figure out a DW BI workload and what it's going to look like and predict it, and then, once they do that, the idea of figuring out what's the right hardware sizing and configuration," he says. "They're wrestling with all of these issues -- 'What storage do I bring in? How do I set up my database? How do I partition it?' Stuff like that," Santaferraro says.

There's also the Who's-to-blame go-around, which remains as popular a dodge as ever.

"What we find is that in the test and development stages, our customers go through a pretty rigorous process of trying to figure out if they have the right stuff, and there are a lot of times where they'll run into a problem and they're trying to figure out why it's not performing, and they go to the hardware folks who say 'You've got to go to the DBA,' so they go to the DBA, who says 'It's storage,' and so on," he concludes.