What does HP Matrix have over Cisco UCS and Juniper Stratus?

In a word: storage. Well, that plus HP's experience with blade servers and tying together heterogeneous network resources.

Call it what you will: unified computing, private clouds, or dynamic datacenters. As of this week, it seems just about every vendor remotely related to the datacenter has hopped on board.

VMware's vSphere "cloud OS" shindig on Tuesday and Oracle's surprise acquisition of Sun Microsystems the day before largely overshadowed the converged datacenter strategy Hewlett-Packard announced on Monday.

[ Related: InfoWorld reports that cheaper virtualization is becoming a reality. | AFCOM CEO Jill Eckhaus spoke in a Q&A on where today's datacenters have gone wrong. ]

Hewlett-Packard describes its newly minted BladeSystem Matrix as a converged platform consisting of storage, server, networking, and software resources. Along with the blade system, HP detailed the Matrix Orchestration Environment, a unified management interface for application infrastructure that spans both physical and virtual environments.

That sounds an awful lot like Cisco's Unified Computing System. For its part, Juniper Networks laid out its Stratus Project in February, and explained it as a converged datacenter fabric the company will stitch together through partnerships with server, storage, and software companies that it thus far has not named.

But HP has an ace in its grand datacenter vision that Cisco and Juniper lack. "Hewlett-Packard has better storage than Cisco," said Dave Bartoletti, a senior analyst focusing on datacenters at consulting and research firm Taneja Group. The same can be said for blades, he added; while Cisco's UCS also rode in on a blade server, it was the networking giant's first, while HP already had blades and other server hardware.

To obtain its storage virtualization and iSCSI technologies, Hewlett-Packard acquired LeftHand Networks last October, and on Monday, among other storage wares, released the LeftHand P4000 SAN for replicating data and balancing data volumes across storage resources.

Cisco, of course, is partnering with storage providers. In what now appears to be a pre-emptive announcement, last Thursday Cisco and NetApp joined forces to build out UCS with a jointly developed "unified storage architecture" based on NetApp storage hardware and software. Analysts expect Cisco to forge similar agreements with the likes of EMC, Emulex, and other storage vendors.

[ In related news, Broadcom made a bid to buy Emulex for $764 million. ]

There is a notable difference between Cisco and Juniper inking storage-centric pacts and HP offering its own storage technologies, Bartoletti said, as well as the companies experience integrating heterogeneous environments.

"HP has a longer history pulling together multivendor solutions. Cisco has always just been Cisco," Bartoletti said. "And most companies would rather piece datacenters together by picking and choosing best-of-breed than become beholden to Cisco."

Bartoletti added that UCS was effectively Cisco's acknowledgement that virtualization will be the most prevalent datacenter tactic for the next 10 years and that, in turn, will present storage challenges IT must surmount. "The biggest problem when you do widespread datacenter virtualization is storage because even with enough capacity, storage performance always degrades," Bartoletti said. "Companies need better tools for storage and virtualization management."

To that end, VMware marched out a jam-packed band of partners supporting its vSphere launch that included both Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, as well as EMC, Intel, and Unisys. Cisco CEO John Chambers unwrapped a new virtual switch, the Nexus 1000V, while HP was there to announce the integration of vSphere into its Adaptive Infrastructure portfolio.

The common thread in these myriad moves is that the vendors are all gearing up to help companies build so-called private clouds built on virtualization and featuring storage resources quite prominently. Even though any definition of the term private clouds remains muddled -- vendors have differing monikers and descriptions, and IDC calls it a dynamic datacenter -- enterprise IT shops are embarking on that journey, according to Cindy Borovick, research vice president of datacenter networks at IDC.

"Enterprises are looking at how to make their datacenters more efficient," Borovick said. "Ideally, that means buying and using infrastructure as needed. IT shops are moving in that direction."

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