HP aiming for data protection 'battleground'

IT vendor's latest offerings meant to help enterprises better store, manage and access corporate data, but also reflect HP's push toward internal collaboration to drive product development, execs say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor on

LAS VEGAS--Hewlett-Packard (HP) is targeting data protection and management, an area it described as the "next battleground" for enterprises, for future growth. In doing so, the IT vendor is signaling a shift toward closer cooperation and integration among the different business units, executives share.

David Scott, senior vice president and general manager at HP's storage division, noted that with data volumes growing in tandem with compliance and regulatory pressures, data backup is now both a business and legal imperative. He was speaking at a press conference during the HP Discover conference here on Monday.

First-generation data deduplication technologies did solve some problems, he acknowledged, but added that these were inadequate and saddled companies with greater costs and complexities instead. For example, companies could not move the deduplicated data across their different departments without channeling it through their networks, which then eats up more bandwidth and increases complexity in managing the data, he explained.

These "major gaps" are where the IT vendor plans to "leapfrog" ahead of the competition via its updated StoreOnce backup system and new StoreOnce catalyst software--both of which were launched today, said Scott.

HP also introduced its "meaning-based" data protection tool--the Data Protector 7--that helps address the "extremely painful" challenge of retrieving very granular pieces of data across a patchwork of physical and virtual environments, the executive noted.

Such a tool would help enterprises better manage their data repositories, enable smarter information governance and make backing up of data an asset, he explained. Using the company as an example, he noted that to restore all information of Meg Whitman, the context-aware tool would retrieve not just files related to "HP CEO" but narrow it down to information from September 2011--the date when the CEO joined the company.

Pulling in the same direction
These new product launches also represent a "sign of the new HP" in which an overall unified focus and collaboration between the different business units will become a more common feature going forward.

The latest data backup and recovery offerings, for instance, are developed using technologies created by its research and development (R&D) arm HP Labs, and Autonomy, the British software company HP acquired in 2011, Scott noted.

Jim Merritt, senior vice president and general manager for Asia-Pacific and Japan at HP Enterprise Group, added in a separate interview that having an overall unified focus will help the company exploit the ongoing IT trends and opportunities.

Enterprise customers are looking to gain more efficiency out of their sprawling, inefficient silos of storage and servers, and this is where the business opportunities lie, he elaborated.

Duncan Campbell, vice president of worldwide marketing for converged infrastructure at HP Enterprise Group, pointed out that it was "very refreshing" for the collaborative work being done across different business units. After all, it was only two years ago that the company organized separate conferences for its software and hardware and infrastructure announcements, he added.

With the company's converged infrastructure framework, this acts as a foundation of common building blocks upon which the company can drive innovations at the application and information levels, he explained.

"It means we're all in this together with the IP (intellectual property) from the different departments, and this [unified vision] then translates to partners and then sales," Campbell said.

Asked what role software will play in HP's future, Merritt replied: "At the end of day, the core of what we do is infrastructure [and] software or services tie these things together to automate the infrastructure and solve business problems. We're not buying software companies to be a 'software company'; we [acquire] to help customers resolve business problems."

Still limited in reach
Analysts ZDNet Asia contacted had mixed views about the IT vendor's future though. Simon Piff, associate vice president of enterprise infrastructure research at IDC Asia-Pacific, said HP has strong software offerings in the infrastructure market but less so for applications.

This limits the company to just addressing IT issues in the underlying infrastructure layer, he pointed out. In other words, HP is challenged in having meaningful discussions with business units which are increasingly becoming the IT budget decision-makers.

"[HP will need] a long-term plan to reestablish relevance in the minds of these business owners," Piff stated.

John Brand, vice president and principal analyst of the CIO group at Forrester Research, had a more optimistic outlook for the company. He said HP is still in the early days of a major transformation amid CEO and management reshuffles and internal streamlining, and if done right might stand the company in good stead for future growth.

"Having a consistent message about what changes are happening in [a defined] timeframe set against the backdrop of an ultimate vision is hard to do, but powerful when executed well," he said.

The IT vendor had announced last month it plans to lay off 27,000 employees by the end of its 2014 fiscal year, which would allow it to invest in areas such as cloud computing, big data and security.

Jamie Yap of ZDNet Asia reported from HP Discover 2012 in Las Vegas, United States.

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