What does HP Matrix have over Cisco UCS and Juniper Stratus

Call it what you will: unified computing, private clouds, or dynamic data centers. As of this week, it seems just about every vendor remotely related to the data center has hopped on board.

VMware's vSphere "cloud OS" shindig on Tuesday and Oracle's surprise acquisition of Sun Microsystems the day before largely overshadowed the converged data center strategy Hewlett-Packard announced on Monday.

Hewlett-Packard describes its newly minted BladeSystem Matrix as a converged platform consisting of storage, server, networking and software resources. Along with the blade system, HP detailed the Matrix Orchestration Environment, a unified management interface for application infrastructure that spans both physical and virtual environments.

That sounds an awful lot like Cisco's Unified Computing System. For its part, Juniper Networks laid out its Stratus Project in February, and explained it as a converged data center fabric the company will stitch together through partnerships with server, storage and software companies that it thus far has not named.

But HP has an ace in its grand data center vision that Cisco and Juniper lack. "Hewlett-Packard has better storage than Cisco," said Dave Bartoletti, a senior analyst focusing on data centers at consulting and research firm Taneja Group. The same can be said for blades, he added; while Cisco's UCS also rode in on a blade server, it was the networking giant's first, while HP already had blades and other server hardware.

To obtain its storage virtualization and iSCSI technologies, Hewlett-Packard acquired LeftHand Networks last October, and on Monday, among other storage wares, released the LeftHand P4000 SAN for replicating data and balancing data volumes across storage resources.

Cisco, of course, is partnering with storage providers. In what now appears to be a pre-emptive announcement, last Thursday Cisco and NetApp joined forces to build out UCS with a jointly developed "unified storage architecture" based on NetApp storage hardware and software. Analysts expect Cisco to forge similar agreements with the likes of EMC, Emulex, and other storage vendors.

There is a notable difference between Cisco and Juniper inking storage-centric pacts and HP offering its own storage technologies, Bartoletti said, as well as the companies experience integrating heterogeneous environments.

"HP has a longer history pulling together multivendor solutions. Cisco has always just been Cisco," Bartoletti said. "And most companies would rather piece data centers together by picking and choosing best-of-breed than become beholden to Cisco."

Bartoletti added that UCS was effectively Cisco's acknowledgment that virtualization will be the most prevalent data center tactic for the next 10 years and that, in turn, will present storage challenges IT must surmount. "The biggest problem when you do widespread data center virtualization is storage because even with enough capacity, storage performance always degrades," Bartoletti said. "Companies need better tools for storage and virtualization management."

To that end, VMware marched out a jam-packed band of partners supporting its vSphere launch that included both Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, as well as EMC, Intel and Unisys. Cisco CEO John Chambers unwrapped a new virtual switch, the Nexus 1000V, while HP was there to announce the integration of vSphere into its Adaptive Infrastructure portfolio.

The common thread in these myriad moves is that the vendors are all gearing up to help companies build so-called private clouds built on virtualization and featuring storage resources quite prominently. Even though any definition of the term private clouds remains muddled -- vendors have differing monikers and descriptions, and IDC calls it a dynamic data center -- enterprise IT shops are embarking on that journey, according to Cindy Borovick, research vice president of datacenter networks at IDC.

"Enterprises are looking at how to make their datacenters more efficient," Borovick said. "Ideally, that means buying and using infrastructure as needed. IT shops are moving in that direction."

This story, "What does HP Matrix have over Cisco UCS and Juniper Stratus" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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