Wolfe's Den: HP Revs Data Center Strategy, Stabbing At Cisco

Hewlett-Packard has fired back at Cisco in the increasingly contentious race to field an overarching data-center strategy, which will enable enterprises to rein in the complexity of sprawling networks and rampant virtualization.
Cisco has come up with what's perhaps the most enticing method--certainly, marketing-wise--of taking complexity and bundling it in under a buyer-friendly umbrella, via its Unified Computing System, announced back in March. UCS, which is both a product family and a strategy, bundles compute servers with network switching and management.

With its converged infrastructure architecture, HP is similarly trying to shield from complexity customers who are more concerned with running apps than managing the nuts and bolts of their compute resources.

"IT sprawl has businesses at the breaking point," Dave Donatelli, executive vice president of HP enterprise servers and networking said Wednesday on an HP Webcast intended to explain the converged architecture announcement. Donatelli noted that, by the end of the year, virtual servers will outnumber physical servers. "So now we have virtual sprawl," he said.

"It is clear that the traditional hierarchical network model is broken. It is clear that networks must be architected for virtualization from the start," said Paul Miller, HP's vice president of marketing. Indicating that HP is just as cognizant of the importance of storage as are Cisco and EMC, Miller noted that storage is another element of the equation, which hasn't kept up with the demands of virtualization. "We have to virtualize the entire storage stack," he said.

Beyond the compute and storage guts, management may well remain the trickiest element for competing vendors such as HP and Cisco to streamline, given that most of their customers operate highly heterogeneous environments. "Management must evolve to a shared-service model that is application-aware," said HP's Miller. He noted that shared-service environments span Unix, Linux, and Windows, and that dynamic failover of applications and disaster-recovery systems much work across all operating systems.

In summary, the Cisco and HP news of this week is likely only the beginning of a long series of data-center salvos. So for customers, navigating this environment is likely to get tougher, as they assess competing offerings.

Yet one wonders if perhaps the biggest problem is that the whole concept of data-center sprawl, and the management thereof, remains obtuse to the initiated. As in, how the heck do CIOs explain this stuff to their CEO?

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of