NEW YORK -- Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) announced Monday a storage system that it says can be installed in less than 30 minutes -- or fewer than 10 clicks. The product could change the way small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) think about storage -- and HP.
The systems are specifically designed for managing storage in Microsoft environments only, with point-and-click tools for working with SQL, as well as Exchange. This could present obstacles for some shops, but given that most small businesses use Microsoft, HP said it isn't concerned.
Built into the AiO box is Data Protector Express Software enabling it to back up and recover data from tape, virtual tape, optical or external disk on the network. The HP AiO Storage Systems also run Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, which enables replication from one system to another and rapid recovery in the event of a disaster. The AiO box does not, however, automatically configure itself as a backup target for hosts.
A different approach to simplicity
Instead of offering a dumbed-down version of an enterprise product, HP has built a product for SMBs from the ground up. It's a way of approaching this market that's unique, experts say, and could secure HP's position as a top-tier player in the SMB space.
"This is the product that could do it for them," said Dianne McAdam, an analyst at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. "The fact that you can do this in a few clicks is incredibly innovative."
What sets this product apart is that HP has put a simple application-level manager on top of all of that complexity. That's how it can cut the time it takes to migrate data from an Exchange server from hours, maybe even days, down to minutes.
"Our competitors manage it from a storage level, we manage it from an Exchange level," said Harry Baeverstad, director of network-attached storage at HP.
McAdam said she doesn't see anyone else taking this approach. "Integration with the application is the secret sauce here."
Users were practically gushing during the press event Monday over the AiO and how easy it is to use. David Lay, director of IT at Salem Law Group P.A., said installing storage usually "takes an engineering degree, a lot of effort and know-how." The AiO was so easy he "didn't think it worked right." Truth be told, his administrative assistant actually set one up, too.
Greg Schulz, senior analyst at The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn., doesn't underestimate the lure of the 10 clicks to NAS factor but said the ease of deployment is a short-term fix for what is a long-term problem for SMBs -- storage management. "This announcement is evolutionary, not revolutionary," he said.
After they migrate, then what?
"What can [this product] do on a day-by-day basis to simplify and reduce management tasks?" he asked. "Saving a couple of hours on the migration is great, but what if I can save five minutes over three years? Who brings the best value on an ongoing basis? It's the long-term proposition that's going to make this a value for users."
The fight for SMB market share
Still, while it may seem that HP has done nothing short of unlocking the mysteries of the universe, the fierce battle for market share has heated up, and HP is just the latest to market storage simplicity to SMBs. HP faces stiff competition from the likes of EMC, IBM and even Dell, all of whom have been coveting this market for some time. But with IDC predicting the market will reach $5.7 billion by 2010, the market is ripe for the taking.
Today, about a third of HP's revenue comes from SMBs -- about $30 billion.
"HP should be the king of the SMB market," Schulz said. Indeed, the company dominated the SMB space with Proliant servers, but it's been squeezed by Dell, EMC and IBM. This announcement, however, means HP is back in the game and coming out swinging, Schulz said.
"They have a lot of natural DNA," he said. "HP can bring its experience and focus in aligning the servers, software and services. IBM can do that, but it has to also cater to the high end."
Channel partners will play a huge role in pushing this product out, said Mary Johnston Turner, an analyst at Ovum Summit.
"This is the kind of product that resellers can go back to customers and say, 'Hey, I got this thing that'll solve your problem,'" she said. "It can exponentially grow HP's business."
She added, "HP is one of a handful that has the assets to pull together a solution like this. Dell is trying, she said, but "it doesn't have the management history."
HP has about 145,000 channel partners worldwide, of which a "lion's share" is focused on SMBs, said Tom LaRocca, vice president of partner development and programs for the Solutions Partner Organization at HP.
"[SMB] is the fastest-growing market segment for us," LaRocca said. "We made a decision a year ago this would be best served by partners."
The AiO opens up a lucrative opportunity for resellers, who say there's a huge untapped market. "There are a lot of customers who aren't using HP," said Bob Vomaske, CEO of Vista Solutions Corp. in Fort Collins, Colo.
The AiO is available in two models -- the AiO400 and the AiO600. Pricing for the AiO400 starts at $5,000 for a 1U rack-mountable system with four SATA drive bays and a raw capacity of 1 terabyte (TB). The AiO600, available in a rack or tower, has six bays (SATA or SAS) and raw capacity of 1.5TB, 3TB or 876 GB (SAS). Pricing starts at $6,700.
HP will also offer a competitive financing program to lure new customers, HP's Baeverstad said. "For the price of going to Starbucks once a day, you can have an AiO."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director