HP launches virtualisation product blitz

Announcements come in lead-up to VMware conference this month

Hewlett-Packard has announced a broad sweep of new virtualisation products along with survey results claiming that most businesses aren't making the most of what the technology has to offer.

The products include a ProLiant blade server "built from the ground up" for virtualisation, four thin-client computers for virtualising desktops, new equipment for virtualising storage and some consulting services.

Virtualisation is most widely used today for consolidating servers in datacentres, which can help cut costs and reduce energy use. HP is trying to sell the technology as a way to make businesses more competitive, by freeing up IT resources that can be repurposed quickly to create new services.

In a video on HP's website, Ann Livermore, head of HP's Technology Solutions Group, says "Today, many companies are focused only on how virtualisation reduces cost; we believe it enables much more".

On the desktop, HP is trying to push virtualisation beyond call centres and into offices, for use by business analysts, engineers and even financial traders. It announced four thin-client PCs that will ship in October, two with its ThinConnect operating system, one with Windows CE and one with Windows XP Embedded.

It also announced that its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software and blade PCs now support Citrix Systems' XenDesktop software, which was announced in May. VDI lets a company run multiple desktop OS environments on a server and is geared toward "basic productivity workers." HP also offers blade PCs, which use a dedicated server blade for each desktop environment, for workers who need more compute power.

Tad Bodeman, director of product marketing for HP's client virtualization business, says "All of these cost the same or a bit more to buy than a desktop PC, but very quickly you'll have a return on the investment". The savings come from lower management costs for centrally managed virtual desktops, a longer lifecycle for the thin-client hardware — up to seven years compared to five years for a standard desktop — and fewer incidents of lost or stolen data because the data is stored on a central server. Thin clients also consume less energy, around 25 watts compared to 100 watts or more for a desktop PC.

For the datacentre, HP says its new BL495c blade server is built for virtualisation because it has 16 DIMM slots for a possible 128GB of memory, up to eight network connections per blade and two solid-state disk drives.

"When you're consolidating under-utilised servers into a single platform, which is what many customers are doing with virtualisation, that platform has to be very expandable," says Mark Potter, general manager of HP's BladeSystem Group. "Memory and I/O are the things that tend to get bottlenecked first."

The server comes with one or two quad-core Opteron processors from AMD and hypervisor software from VMware, Citrix or Microsoft.

Also new is StorageWorks 4400 Scaleable NAS File Services, which can be combined with HP's 4400 Enterprise Virtual Array to create a virtual storage pool that can be shared among servers connected to the system, according to HP.

"All the servers will have read/write access to all the storage, so an administrator can create pools of storage resources that can be mapped more easily to where they need to be," Potter says.

The system comes with 4.8 terabytes of storage, expandable to 96 terabytes.

HP also announced enhancements to its HP-UX operating system, some "fixed-price" consulting services and software updates for managing virtual environments.

Almost nine out of 10 companies are doing some sort of virtualisation today, but most are in the early stages, according to an HP-commissioned survey of 150 decision makers at mostly large companies. Only about one-third of them see virtualisation as a way to accelerate growth or to become more competitive, HP says.

HP is among a glut of companies that will make virtualisation announcements ahead of VMware's annual VMworld conference in Las Vegas, which starts September 15. BMC Software also announced new management software last week, and Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Surgient and Neterion are among the other companies expected to announce products before VMworld hogs the spotlight two weeks from now.

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