Eye on the incumbents

Whither Hewlett-Packard? You don't have to champion a new protocol or data-handling method to rearrange the storage landscape. For incumbent provider HP, for which storage is a major product line, it may be enough to better execute fundamental business processes, such as making it easier to order products and controlling internal costs.

That was the upshot of a companywide restructuring that HP's Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd unveiled in early July. To restore some luster to the company's balance sheet, he's cutting 14,500 jobs, mostly in the information technology, human resources and finance units.

"It's not so much what he's saying but what Mark is doing that will make the difference," said Duncan Campbell, vice president of marketing for HP's StorageWorks Division. "He put in place a new [chief information officer] and gave us the type of intelligence we need to focus on and run our business. The sales forces are all aligned with the business units, which will give us more coordination and that bodes well for StorageWorks in particular."

In May, HP's storage unit tried to generate new momentum with a series of product introductions. It introduced a new high-end network-attached storage (NAS) product called HP StorageWorks Enterprise File Services (EFS) Clustered Gateway, which company officials said costs significantly less than comparable products from market leaders Network Appliance (NetApp) and EMC.

HP also introduced the HP StorageWorks EFS Wide-Area Network (WAN) Accelerator to speed file traffic from branch offices using a WAN connection. The company also added a virtual library system for backup and recovery applications, and doubled the capacity of its Enterprise Virtual Array disk systems. Five new professional services built around Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) round out the new products.

Three months later, it's unclear how much those offerings have helped HP turn things around; Campbell won't say how much new business they've generated, if any. But it's clear from recent figures from IDC that the vendor has a lot of work ahead.

HP does reasonably well in external disk storage systems, third behind EMC and IBM, and has been competing aggressively with EMC in the lower end of the market, where SCSI and Advanced Technology Attachment drives are popular. EMC recently pulled ahead of HP in the IP storage-area network market, and HP ranks fifth in storage software sales.

Campbell points to the greater demand for blade servers and sees opportunity for HP. "We're in a unique position here," he said. "We're going to make sure our servers and storage products work better together from a management software and services perspective."

Competitors have also used partnerships and acquisitions to gain an edge — witness EMC and Dell working together, likewise with NetApp and IBM, and Sun Microsystems's acquisition of StorageTek. But Campbell said HP has successfully partnered with storage networking vendors Brocade Communications Systems, Cisco Systems and McData.

He added the importance of recent acquisitions, including Persist Technologies for its ILM software. HP managed to retain all of Persist's engineers. "We've done a number of different acquisitions, but it's not just about the hottest new technology but also having the coverage, support and system-level quality that MIS expects," Campbell said.

The staff reductions at HP and the recently introduced products can only help the company's storage ambitions, said John Webster, senior analyst at Data Mobility Group.

"HP was losing market share based on the fact they had become more difficult to deal with from the perspective of the channel — orders were getting backed up," Webster said. Part of what will help HP is its plan to deploy more people to bring distributors and resellers back into the HP fold, he added.

In terms of products, Webster said the Persist acquisition and HP's Reference Information Storage Systems technology will help HP in its grid computing aspirations. "I think they've got some good things going in the NAS arena and are doing a lot of partnering with small companies that have interesting technology," Webster said. "HP's trying to integrate them and bring them to market as quickly as possible."

Whether that's what it will take for HP to steal business from its competitors remains an open question, but it's clear that the company has sharpened its focus on storage more than it has in several quarters. Turning intentions into results is always the hard part.

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