Can HP Lead in Virtualization Management?

HP has been a player in the virtualization market for quite a while.  It has offered many hardware products including its server blades have given it a respectable position in the market. In addition, HP has done a great job being an important partner to key virtualization software players including VMWare, Red Hat, and Citrix. It is also establishing itself as a key Microsoft partner as it moves boldly into virtualization with HyperV.  Thus far, HP’s virtualization strategy did not focus on software. That has started to change.  Now, if this had been the good old days, I think we would have seen a strategy that focused on cooler hardware and data center optimization. Now, don’t get me wrong — HP is very much focused on the hardware and the data center. But now there is a new element that I think will be important to watch.

HP is finally leveraging its software assets in the form of virtualization management.  If I were cynical I would say, it’s about time.  But to be fair, HP has added a lot of new assets to its software portfolio in the last couple of years that make a virtualization management strategy more possible and more believable.

It is interesting that when a company has key assets to offer customers, it often strengthens the message. I was struck by what I thought was a clear message that a found on one of their slides from their marketing pitch, “Your applications and business services don’t care where resources are, how they’re connected or how they’re managed, and neither should you. ”  This statement struck me as precisely the right message in this crazy overhyped virtualization market.  Could it be that HP is becoming a marketing company?

As virtualization goes mainstream, I predict that management of this environment will become the most important issue for customers. In fact, this is the message I have gotten load and clear from cusotmers trying to virtualize their applications on servers.  Couple this will the reality that no company virtualizes everything and even if they did they still have a physical environment to manage.  Therefore, HP focuses its strategy on a plan to manage the composite of physical and virtual.  Of course, HP is not alone here. I was at Citrix’s industry analyst meeting last week and they are adopting this same strategy. I promise that my next blog will be about Citrix.

HP is calling its virtualization strategy its Business Management Suite.  While this is a bit generic, HP is trying to leverage the hot business service management platform and wrap virtualization with it.  Within this wrapper, HP is including four componements:

  • Business Service Management — the technique for linking services across the physical and virtual worlds. This is intended to monitor the end-to-end health of the overall environment.
  • Business Service Automation — a technique for provisioning assets for distributed computing
  • IT Service Management — a technique for discovering what software is present and what licenses need to be managed
  • Quality Management — a technique for testing, scheduling, and provisioning resources across platforms. Many companies are starting to use virtualization as a way of testing complex composite applications before putting them into production. Companies are testing for both application quality and performance under different loads.

I am encouraged that HP seems to understand the nuances of this market.  HP’s strategy is to position itself as the “Switzerland” of the virtualization management space.  It is therefore creating a platform that includes infrastucture to manage across IBM, Microsoft, VMWare, Citrix, and Red Hat.  Therefore, it is positioning its management assets from its heritage software (OpenView) and its acquisitions to execute this strategy. For example, its IT Service Management offering is intended to manage the compliance with license terms and conditions as well as charge backs across hetergenous environments. It’s Asset manager is intended to track virtualized assets through its discovery and dependency mapping tools.  HP’s Operations Manager has extended its performance agents so that it can monitor capabilities from virtual machines to hypervisors.  The company’s SiteScope provides agentless monitoring of hypervisors for VMWare.  The HP Network Node manager has extended support for monitoring virtual networks.

HP’s goal to to focus on the overall health of these distributed, virtualized services from an availability, performance, capacity planning, end user experience, and service level management perspective.  It is indeed an ambitious plan that will take some time to develop but it is the right direction. I am particularly impressed with the partner program that HP is evolving around its CMDB (Configuration Management Database).  It is partnering with VMWare to embark on a joint development initiative to provide a federated CMDB that can collect information from a variety of hosts and guest hosts in an on demand approach. Other companies such as Red Hat and Citrix have joined the CMDB program.

This is an interesting time in the virtualization movement.  As virtualization matures, companies are starting to realize that simply virtualizing an application on a server does not by itself save the time and money they anticipated.  The world is a lot more complicated than that.  Management wants to understand how the entire environment is part of delivering value.  For example, an organization might put all of its call center personnel on a virtualized platform which works fine until an additional 20 users with heavy demands on the server suddenly causes performance to falter.  In other situations, everything works fine until there is a software error somewhere in the distributed environment.  The virtualized environment suddenly fails and it is very difficult for IT operations to diagnose the problem. This is when management stops getting excited about how wonderful it is that they can virtualize hundreds of users onto a single server and starts worrying about the quality of service and the reputation of the organization overall.

The bottom line is that HP seems to be pulling the right pieces together for its virtualization management strategy. It is indeed still early. Virtualization itself is only the tip of the distributed computing marketplace.  HP will have to continue to innovate on its own while investing in its partner ecosystem. Today partners are eager to work with HP because it is a good partner and non-threatening.  But HP won’t be alone in the management of virtualization.  I expect that other companies like IBM and Microsoft will be very aggressive in this market.  HP has a little breathing room right now that it should take advantage of before things change again. And they always change again.

  1. September 15, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    HP’s still missing a workload management system across both physical and virtual. More than just “monitoring”. The play for them (or for any “neutral entity”) has to be (a) workload management of multiple VM technologies, as well as (b) workload of native applications and O/Ss. BTW, with today’s VMware announcements, the gauntlet’s been thrown down.

  2. September 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Hey Judith,

    That is a very helpful and comprehensive review about HP’s virtualization positioning!

    I can attest from the field that HP’s Virtual Machine product works just great and allows huge savings on time effort and money running HPUX, WIndows and Linux Virtual machines on HP Itanium Hardware.

    It is amazingly stable and works wonderfully.

    Yours,

    Jack.

    http://itprofessional-mastermind.com/blog

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