Can HP's Converged Infrastructure Be All Things to All Enterprises?

With its new Converged Infrastructure pitch, HP wants to be all things to all enterprises. How is it different from Adaptive Enterprise, HP's previous program?

With its new Converged Infrastructure (CI) pitch, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is making it clear: it wants to be all things to all enterprises.

Need a super-dense, always-on data center that gives you a means to quickly add -- or (just as quickly) pare back -- compute, storage, or networking capacity? HP has a service for that. Want to cut data center energy costs, reduce administration costs, and improve total cost of ownership (TCO)? HP has a service for that, too.

If some aspects of CI recall what HP was touting five years ago as its Utility Data Center (UDC), there's a reason for that, says Jim Ganthier, vice president of marketing for HP's Industry Standard Server group. What used to be called utility computing is, in fact, a logical subset of CI.

Think of it in terms that a digital consumer might understand: utility computing (and HP's UDC vision, in particular) is the video-on-demand component of CI's over-arching cable or broadband television service.

"Utility computing," Ganthier explains, "is a usage model."

For this reason, he concedes, many of the same benefits that are said to attach to utility computing -- e.g., improved efficiency; better (if not ideal) utilization of compute, storage, and network resources; resiliency and elasticity, chiefly by virtue of an ability to recover more quickly from service interruptions and provision (or mothball) compute resources in response to changes in demand; and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) -- likewise attach to CI.

"If you require additional compute [resources], if you require additional horsepower, we can provide that for you. We can provide that as either a pipe into your data center [e.g., from an external cloud service] or [as an on-premises deployment] inside your data center," he explains.

Conceptual difference or not, CI employs some of the same terminology -- and in many respects, paints with the same dynamic/always-on/automated/efficient/TCO-reducing brush -- as its predecessor, particularly with respect both to virtualization and data center TCO adjustment.

As far as being over-arching, CI also invites comparison with HP's Adaptive Enterprise pitch, which (when it was first announced, more than five years ago) HP liked to promote using terms such as "holistic" and "integrated."

Consider a December, 2003 press release in which the company announced a "holistic approach to virtualization" as part of its (still then-evolving) Adaptive Enterprise strategy. (Adaptive Enterprise, for the record, succeeded a predecessor strategy: Adaptive Infrastructure, which HP unveiled at about the same time that IBM Corp. announced its eBusiness On Demand strategy in late 2002.)

"For years, customers have operated with siloed infrastructures that are over-provisioned, inflexible, and expensive," said Nora Denzel, then a senior vice president with HP, in the release. A topical research item from industry watcher Tom Kucharvy, then-president of consultancy Summit Strategies (and now a senior vice president with Ovum Research) noted that "customers are demanding more holistic solutions … in which a single company defines an integrated plan and assumes full accountability for the results." There's a sense, then, in which the over-arching aspects that supports CI isn't entirely new.

The Newness of CI

It's the same for CI, which HP positions as a single, all-encompassing take on data center management. One key difference, Ganthier observes, is that utility computing never proposed to deal with anything other than data center (or compute) resources -- including the people who manage them.

CI, on the other hand, by definition addresses non-data-center hardware and software resources, along with people and process issues.

"The beauty of Converged Infrastructure is that it's actually a holistic and integrated view of not just your compute power but of how you handle servers, storage, and networking as one whole. How do you do that in an automated, simple, interoperable fashion that's highly integrated?" he asks.

"Utility computing was one delivery mechanism and methodology [for addressing this]; converged infrastructure is an over-arching approach that makes use of [utility computing] along with other, similar [methodologies]."

HP's CI vision is still taking shape. Ganthier stressed that other business units (such as its NonStop group or its Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing practice) are still in the process of ramping up to CI. (Ganthier did suggest that HP is poised to make a CI announcement on the NonStop front sometime next month.) It's still very much a proposition and not a hard-and-fast prescription with clearly defined tiers or services. Nor can it yet address the whole of an enterprise infrastructure, Ganthier concedes.

When it comes to shifting the enterprise data center in its entirety over to CI -- e.g., ERP and domain-specific applications, OLTP databases, and data warehouses -- in addition to the application development, Web application, and business process workloads that typically populate blade systems -- Ganthier says "we can start to have that conversation with [customers]. We can't do it as cleanly yet."

CI is a bet-the-business move for HP, however, and Ganthier anticipates having conversations of this kind. They're already taking place inside of HP, he says. "Those conversations have definitely not only commenced, but over the next 90 days, you'll start to see some of those outputs, too," he indicates.

"Even within HP software, there's a lot of stuff that we end up sharing between the two teams. Inside Dynamics is one perfect example: the whole orchestration piece is actually a co-developed, co-generation offering that came from us [the Industry Standard Server Group] and the HP Software team."

HP has put together, at least on paper, the requisite pieces for a creditable CI pitch. Its technology CV is impressive: industry-standard and OEM-enhanced hardware? Check. Market-leading blades? Check. A networking practice that -- with the acquisition of 3Com -- could conceivably mount a challenge to Cisco Systems Inc. in the enterprise routing and switching segments? It has that, too, via its ProCurve unit.

Elsewhere, HP is proud of best-in-class data center management and data center automation software; creditable energy management expertise (in both silicon and software); an enormous services arm, with expertise across a variety of different domains; and platform breadth and depth, with support for a trio of mission-critical, if -- in the case of NonStop and OpenVMS -- niche-like, operating environments, in addition to Windows and Linux.