HP hits restart on 'converged systems,' takes aim at vBlock

The new systems share common infrastructure components so they can be managed together more easily

An HP Converged System announced Monday in Barcelona

An HP Converged System announced Monday in Barcelona

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Hewlett-Packard released new "converged systems" on Monday that aim to get customers up and running quickly with virtualized applications and big-data analytics.

If it sounds familiar, it should: HP released similar products earlier this year and in 2011, but it's mothballing those and starting again with new systems that it says are more tightly integrated, allowing customers to purchase and deploy them in 20 days.

The new systems share common infrastructure components, which means they will also be easier to manage and support, according to Tom Joyce, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Converged Systems division, a new business unit that was formed in April.

HP announced the products at its Discover conference in Barcelona, along with a third system for desktop hosting. The products combine HP servers, storage, network gear and software in systems that HP designs and assembles at the factory.

Converged systems are becoming popular: Vendors say that by integrating the parts themselves, they can provide better performance and accelerate deployment times for customers. A downside is that customers get limited options for configuration.

Two of the HP systems appear to replace earlier efforts. The ConvergedSystem for Virtualization, for running applications such as SharePoint and Exchange, has similar components to the HP VirtualSystem, which HP launched in 2011 and is now discontinuing. Similarly, the new analytics product, the ConvergedSystem 300 for Vertica, is a substitute for the HP AppSystem for Vertica, which was announced nine months ago and is also being discontinued.

Those earlier products were really "reference designs" that came with more configuration options and were not as fully integrated out of the factory, according to Joyce. Customers now want faster times to deployment, and that's what HP is providing, he said.

"We took what we learned from the HP VirtualSystem and productized it, so you can now order it in 20 minutes and have it show up in 20 days," Joyce said.

HP isn't the only company to have hit the restart button on its converged products. Dell pulled the plug on its all-in-one virtualization boxes a few years ago and replaced them with its Active Systems line.

"This whole workload-optimized system market is fairly new, and not every product will work for every vendor," said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT. Sometimes customers don't bite, and other times the systems turn out not to be a good fit for the vendor, he said.

But it's a type of product customers seem to be interested in. Oracle, IBM and VCE - the alliance of Cisco, EMC and VMware -- also sell converged systems. HP's ConvergedSystem for Virtualization is targeted at VCE in particular. "We have them in our sites, no question," Joyce said.

With a street price starting under US$100,000, the ConvergedSystem for Virtualization costs less than VCE's vBlock System 100 and can perform I/O operations faster, according to Joyce.

VCE responded that a "true converged infrastructure is about the business value it provides to customers, not the numbers on the back of a data sheet." It said its customers are happy with the cost and performance of its products.

The ConvergedSystem for Virtualization comes in two models, with the smaller "300" model combining as many as eight ProLiant DL380p servers, two HP switches and as many as eight HP StorVirtual VSA software instances. Customers pick Microsoft or VMware for the virtualization, and HP provides "app maps" for customers to tune the system to their workload.

The 300 model provides the basic infrastructure for the ConvergedSystem for Vertica and will be the basis for future ConvergedSystems for Hadoop and other more specialized applications, Joyce said. Using a common infrastructure makes them easier for customers to manage and support, he said.

"We'll be able to use that same building block to do all of the applications you want to run on a standard, virtual infrastructure, but we'll also use it for very specific things, so something like SAP HANA," Joyce said.

Also, he said, within the next year, customers will be able to use the ConvergedSystems as building blocks to expand a private cloud built using HP's CloudSystem products.

A third new system that HP announced Monday is the ConvergedSystem 100 for Hosted Desktops, which is built on HP's hyperscale Moonshot servers. Those servers are the first Moonshot systems from HP to include a processor from Advanced Micro Devices, the X2150 system on chip.

Despite the move to more integrated systems, some big companies still want flexible configuration options, so for those customers HP will offer the ConvergedSystem for Virtualization X. But it thinks most customers will want the systems fully integrated out of the factory.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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