HP adds new service level for virtual data centers

Hewlett-Packard introduces Critical Advantage, a fourth service level for customers running critical business applications on virtualized hardware

Hewlett-Packard has introduced a new level of service for customers running critical business applications on virtualized, x86-based hardware, the company announced Tuesday.

Called Critical Advantage, the offering provides customers a dedicated team of engineers to help design and manage their x86-based virtual environments, said Flynn Maloy, HP worldwide director of technology services marketing.

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Customers are gaining confidence in virtualization and starting to use it for important applications that they once trusted only on Unix systems, he said. But while virtualization can lower costs, it also increases complexity by creating more dependencies among servers, networks and storage systems.

Critical Advantage is designed to help deal with that complexity. Customers are assigned a team of engineers, including a named account manager, working from one of HP's Global Mission Critical Solution Centers.

The GMCSC is where HP's so-called Level 2 and Level 3 engineers work. These are supposed to be its smartest services staff, trained to deal with large, complex systems. They'll advise customers who sign up for Critical Advantage how to optimize their virtual environments and perform annual services such as a capacity analysis or a security review.

Customers who sign up for HP's top level of systems support, Critical Service, already get a dedicated team of GMCSC engineers. But Critical Service customers have to buy advanced hardware support for all their HP gear as part of their contracts.

Critical Advantage is more flexible, according to Maloy, because customers don't have to buy as much hardware support to qualify for the dedicated engineering services.

"In most of the rest of the industry, if you want direct access to Level 2 and Level 3 engineers and high levels of proactive consulting, you have to get high levels of reactive [hardware] support as well, and that makes those contracts very expensive," he said.

Critical Advantage lets customers buy the dedicated engineering services without buying as much hardware support. They still have to buy some hardware support, but it can be for fewer systems. They can choose what to buy hardware support for on "a blade-by-blade basis," Maloy said.

"When a system goes down in a virtualized environment, it's not going to be 'lights out,' like on a Unix system. It's not all or nothing. You get performance slowdowns that you can live with, so you don't need that super-high-end reactive hardware service on everything," he said.

HP wouldn't provide pricing for Critical Advantage, nor would it say how much hardware support a customer has to buy to qualify for it. There is some information about the service on HP's website, and HP was due to post more information on Tuesday.

It's rare for HP to add a new level to its Mission Critical Services division. "The last time we did this was years ago," Maloy said. The existing levels are Mission Critical Partnership, which is mostly about designing an IT architecture; Critical Service, which includes engineering services and the highest level of hardware support; and Proactive 24, HP's entry-level support offering.

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