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HP Acquires LeftHand Networks - Here We Go Again

I had a nice blog planned on host-based replication this morning but then I received an e-mail about Hewlett-Packard's plans to purchase LeftHand Networks and I thought "Here we go again." Good thing I cleaned out my in-box, because I have a feeling this entry might fill it back up again.
I had a nice blog planned on host-based replication this morning but then I received an e-mail about Hewlett-Packard's plans to purchase LeftHand Networks and I thought "Here we go again." Good thing I cleaned out my in-box, because I have a feeling this entry might fill it back up again.First let me be clear, I like HP and I really like LeftHand Networks. Its CEO, Bill Chambers, is one of the brightest, most sincere guys in the industry and its solution is unique and definitely fills a need. Lately I thought that storage companies were getting a little smarter about technology acquisitions; Brocade's purchase of Foundry Networks, Dell's purchase of EqualLogic, all seem to be heading down the right path. But this one has me scratching my head.

You can do some logical rationalization for the deal. In fact, I predicted last year when Dell bought EqualLogic that HP would feel compelled to make a move to counter and that LeftHand was the logical choice. I also said that I hoped it didn't happen.

I'm not sure if there's much synergy here. Dell, while it has an OEM relationship with EMC, didn't have the situation that HP does. Brocade was virtually nonexistent in the IP market. HP, on the other hand, has too many storage products as it is -- adding LeftHand Networks to the mix is going to make matters more confusing. It has the standalone storage solutions, the entry-level SAN offering (MSA), the midrange EVA solutions, and there is the OEM relationship with HDS that makes up HP's XP offering. Don't forget HP's new scalable NAS solutions as well. HP actually lists having all these offerings as an advantage! How? There are now at least three or four different storage management interfaces.

While the news release gave the standard quotes about how this is going to be great for all involved, especially the customers, I remain skeptical. This will likely slow down development on the LeftHand platform, and integration of two cultures is time-consuming. It also will confuse both the HP and LeftHand sales and marketing teams. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be on the MSA or EVA teams right now.

What should HP do? It has to prune down its storage offering. LeftHand has amazing technology. An option would be to get rid of everything else, add real horsepower to the LeftHand boxes via the use of HP's top-notch server hardware, add the ability to support multiple attached protocols (Fibre Channel in addition to iSCSI) and add the ability to support multiple drive technologies. That would be daring, to say the least, but the world is heading toward clustered storage architectures -- imagine if HP lead the charge?

My guess is HP will play it safe, keep all the product lines, and roll out a confusing strategy that will include some form of common management interface, and then look back in a few years and have to overhaul its entire storage offering. The customer base, unfortunately, will not wait that long. I hope HP proves me wrong, and if it does, I will admit it here.

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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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