Hewlett-Packard has launched a hardware and software package that lets IT managers (re)wire the data centre once in order to gather storage, processor and network resources in pools that can be switched between jobs on the fly, to provide constant availability and to handle peaks in demand. HP executives admit that the Utility Data Center (UDC) was designed to meet the needs of last year's vogue -- application service providers (ASPs). But the company is adamant that UDC will do equally well at what turns out to be the real requirement this year: helping cash-strapped IT managers consolidate and squeeze more return out of the motley collection of mostly idle servers they splashed out on in the boom years. The product set is intended to strike at other system vendors; particularly IBM, whose mainframes have long offered these features. While IBM's "eLiza" programme promises to spread these features across its own server families, HP has stolen a march by offering to pool resources from other vendors. So far the other vendors include Sun Solaris servers and EMC storage. The scheme has recieved a good response from analyst firm Gartner, which rated it above the competition. "IBM's eLiza programme is a huge marketing effort, but IBM is behind in terms of committing to managing heterogeneous environments," said Jim Castell, group vice president of Gartner Group's Dataquest division. Although IBM is spreading features like partitioning to its non-mainframe servers, it will take 18 months to get to where HP is now, he said. Meanwhile, Compaq's Adaptive Computing pitch is even more hamstrung by dealing only with Compaq hardware, he commented. And Sun's ONE scheme lacks the key ingredient of Microsoft-friendliness. "Sun suffers from founder's syndrome," said Castell. "Sun would prefer it if you don't need Mr Gates, but a vendor needs a close working relationship with Microsoft." The comparison with IBM will clearly be of most importance to HP, as the former has mainframes in all the major accounts effectively offering self-healing, continuous processing already. UDC does not have any prospect of consolidating those IBM servers, unfortunately for HP. HP plans to offer a variety of pricing models, including one where the company will deliver a consolidated UDC to a customer, who will pay nothing up front and only pay for the amount of resources he uses. Although this sounds very much like the discredited idea of vendor financing, HP consultant Bernard Tomlin said: "Our bank is still open."