If you’re the CIO of a Fortune 2000 company running a hefty data center, then you owe it to your bottom line to check out Hewlett-Packard’s Utility Data Center (UDC). HP (which has now absorbed Compaq) is targeting large enterprises and some ASPs whose enormous data centers present unique, and expensive, logistical challenges for the CIO.
Unlike similar solutions promised by IBM and Sun, the UDC is the only one ready to roll with a completely virtual IT environment, according to Gartner analyst Jim Cassell, group VP at Gartner’s Dataquest Research. Cassell has visited HP customer sites where the UDC is presently being installed.
While UDC costs are still evolving, as HP is still formulating a pricing structure for the data center, a low-end solution will likely cost around $1 million, predicted Cassell.
The cost isn’t so significant, however, when you consider the potential ROI that comes from the data center’s ability to improve asset utilization, lower personnel costs for maintaining the data center, and provide detailed bills of server usage.
Improved asset planning and utilization
For starters, the UDC offers CIOs a better approach to asset planning—making costly overprovisioning for data centers a thing of the past.
The UDC is a pool of resources—from servers, routers, and firewalls to storage arrays—and features software capability to monitor and adjust all the computing power within the pool.
The data center can reprovision underused resources on the fly, bringing capacity to bear where demand for computing power is heaviest. In other words, in a matter of minutes an NT server can morph into a server running Linux with the required application installed and ready to run. This capability is due to the UDC’s system support: HP-UX, Windows, Linux (Susec flavor), Solaris, as well as HP Storage or EMC storage devices, and Cisco and HP networking devices. The UDC can also scale to 100 UDCs running a total of 60,000 servers.
This automated flexibility makes it possible to nearly double the utilization of the computing resources in the UDC’s resource pool, explained Gartner’s Cassell.
Most IT servers average around 25- to 40-percent utilization or less, depending on where the servers sit in an environment. Cassell said that CIOs will be able to put off capacity upgrades for three to nine months with the UDC. Because of the UDC’s more efficient computing abilities, the system will also require fewer assets when it’s time to upgrade.
HP's goal is to raise computer utilization to as high as 75 percent within the first six months of operation.
Lower personnel expenses
With fewer assets to support, CIOs will need less staff to maintain machines. The staff that once used to reformat and provision machines can be reassigned to other projects.
Additionally, staff now needed to physically hoist floor tiles and rewire the data center can be reassigned to more strategic tasks. Because the UDC need only be hardwired once, administrators can simply turn to a drag-and-drop console to virtually “rewire” the machines.
Along with eliminating physical rewiring, the UDC simplifies software upgrade efforts, now likely done manually. All the servers get their OS images from the storage array, which means upgrades will be quicker and more accurate, according to HP.
Metering on the horizon
HP also plans to roll out an Internet Usage Manager for more accurate accounts of servers. Within two years, HP expects that the software will be able to integrate with existing billing systems. This means that CIOs who now get their computing power from UDC-powered ASPs will see bills that reflect actual server use, not estimates.
If all this sounds too enticing, Cassell cautioned that committing to the UDC is no small undertaking.
“You don't order one and the truck shows up tomorrow,” he said, explaining that it will take at least two months of planning before a team starts to build a custom data center.
Yet HP is encouraging customers to reuse existing hardware wherever possible—another place where customers will save. Before building the data center, HP conducts a survey of existing computing power and completes a needs assessment. Then, according to HP, it “builds the required environment for the customer,” which may include reusing some of a client’s existing equipment.
Putting the UDC to work
The promise of cost savings, improved metrics, and reusing hardware is one thing, but actually saving money is another. Although HP has yet to announce its initial UDC customer roster, HP Labs' Internet Systems and Storage Lab related how it brought its own initial UDC online this past July in Palo Alto, CA.
HP’s Rich Friedrich, principal architect of the Internet Systems and Storage Lab at HP Labs, is installing UDCs in Palo Alto and Bristol, England. By the time the first set of servers comes online in Palo Alto, the UDC will be powering all the Lab’s e-mail, Web servers, file sharing, and calendaring systems, as well as research collaborations around the world. The researchers will use the UDC to raise the quality of digital media in animated films, with the goal of making characters appear more realistic and lifelike.
Friedrich said he is looking forward to the efficiencies and cost savings. Presently, the Lab staffs one admin for every 10 systems. With the UDC, admins will be able to handle 20 systems. The benefit to payroll costs is clear. Either the staff resources can be reassigned, or as in Friedrich’s case, they can simply take on expanded capacity as it comes.
“We’ll be able to grow the infrastructure without hiring more people,” he said.