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Staying Out in Front

That's the approach taken at HP Labs, whether they're looking one year down the road or a decade ahead.

By Gary Anthes
April 25, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - You can hardly pick up a business or IT publication these days without finding someone exhorting Hewlett-Packard Co. to "reinvent" itself.
Regardless of how, or if, new CEO Mark Hurd does that, IT seems likely to go on quietly reinventing itself inside HP Laboratories. The labs may get only 5% of HP's total research and development budget, but they're working on a broad array of technologies, from data center management tools that are expected to find commercial applications next year, to new computer architectures that won't hit the marketplace for at least seven years, if ever.
"We try to be out in front of the company," says Robert F. Waites, director of strategic planning at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. "We try to skate to where the hockey puck will be, not where it is today."
Many of HP Labs' 700 employees are now skating toward a "reinvention of the economics of IT," one of six broad research areas that includes projects in grid and utility computing, self-managing systems, virtualization and smart data centers.
"The most fruitful places to innovate are now above the commodity operating system and CPU chips," Waites says. "We have very little work going on in CPU architectures, but 20 years ago, that was a dominant research program."

Beth Keer in HP Labs' smart data center, where researchers are working on
Beth Keer in HP Labs' smart data center, where researchers are working on "dynamic smart cooling" technology.
What's in Store Near Term
Beth Keer, manager of storage systems research, says most IT shops spend 80% of their budgets on hardware and software maintenance. The goal of a suite of projects at HP Labs is to knock that down by almost half. The key is to automate IT tasks such as provisioning disk arrays and configuring networks, she says.
"There are many steps, and if you screw it up, you are in big trouble. And because these tasks are repetitive and complex, they are not a good fit for human cognitive skills," Keer says.
Projects that attack this problem lie in two broad areas: virtualization, and automated management and control. They include the following:

SoftUDC. The software-based Utility Data Center is a prototype tool for virtualizing server, network and storage resources. It creates a logical layer across disparate hardware and a single, centrally managed pool of resources.

FAB. The Federated Array of Bricks consists of low-cost, industry-standard hardware and proprietary software that allows easy provisioning of storage systems. A "brick" holds a number of disks and a CPU controller. Additional bricks can be snapped in for "capacity on demand," with the Linux-based software automatically striping data across


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