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HP shops balk at AppSystem bundles

IT pros don’t find much to love in new HP data center appliances.

IT managers at big Hewlett-Packard shops are rejecting HP’s new “AppSystem” hardware/software bundles, on principle and in particular.

The new AppSystems unveiled at Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Discover show in Las Vegas this week include the HP Business Data Warehouse Appliance based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2; the HP Database Consolidation Solution, also based on SQL Server 2008 R2; and the HP Vertica Analytics System, a business analytics platform based on the Vertica database software that HP acquired earlier this year.

These join existing appliances such as the HP Enterprise Data Warehouse Solution for Microsoft SQL Server and the HP Business Decision Appliance as well as appliances for Microsoft Exchange.

Devil’s in the details
On the surface, HP’s appliances promise fast integration times, but IT managers that have looked under the hood say they don’t like what they see.

A lot of SMBs are going to jump on it because it seems like a magic bullet, but they’re going to wake up with a hangover.

Matt Lavallee, director of technology, MLS Property Networks

“A lot of the times, they’re using the cheapest equipment they can possibly put in to it,” for example, slow local SATA drives or RAID cards with insufficient write-back cache, said Matt Lavallee, director of technology for MLS Property Networks, a real estate listing service in Shrewsbury, Mass., and a loyal HP hardware customer.

“For anyone doing a large-scale deployment, this is stuff you’d never use,” he said.

The appliances come in a variety of server form factors -- G6 and G7 servers -- and mix of different storage mechanisms -- local storage, Fibre Channel and iSCSI. “So if you’re going for any kind of standardization, that goes out the window,” Lavallee said.

As such, organizations attracted to the AppSystem value proposition should be exceedingly careful, he warned.

“A lot of SMBs are going to jump on it because it seems like a magic bullet, but they’re going to wake up with a hangover,” he predicted. Down the road, “what seemed like a great, drop-in solution has really just increased the complexity in IT.”

Are bundles good or bad?
Specifics aside, IT managers have deep-seated misgivings about the value of hardware/software appliances.

“If an IT organization already has a mature, virtualized infrastructure, this doesn’t add a lot of value,” said Kipp Bertke, information technology manager at the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities in an email. “For them, turning up the servers and installing the software isn’t the hard part, it is configuring the databases that takes most of the work for this type of system.”

But other IT pros like appliances -- if the vendor support is there.

Take Exadata, Oracle’s all-in-one platform for running its database. Stu Radnidge, infrastructure architect at a large financial services company, said his firm has purchased several and that they’ve been a big success.

“I'm actually a big proponent of them. But the key is they have to be treated as a single entity, end to end, all the way from vendor engineering to vendor support,” he said.

Oracle has delivered on that promise, Radnidge said, but he doubts other providers of integrated platforms can do the same, for example VCE and its Vblock (“too many fingers in that pie,” Radnidge said), or, for that matter, HP.

When it comes to VCE’s shortcomings, HP certainly agrees. “Putting things together is good, but the devil’s in the details,” said Martin Whittaker, vice president of systems and solutions engineering for HP enterprise server and networking unit. “Doing system-level integration and optimization is a lot harder with three system-level companies than it is with one.”

However, some IT pros, including Radnidge, maintain that HP itself has a checkered past when it comes to integrating complex systems.

“If their blade system is anything to go by, I can see them failing,” he said. “We have pain around managing all the firmware interdependencies in that, let alone something that includes their storage and networking.”

Mixed messages
Along with its AppSystems news, HP also updated its converged virtualization and private cloud platforms. Where HP once offered BladeSystem Matrix, the company will now offer VirtualSystem, which combines BladeSystem, VirtualConnect, FlexFabric, P4000 (Lefthand) or 3PAR storage, plus VMware or Microsoft virtualization. This places VirtualSystem in to the same naming convention as CloudSystem, announced this winter, which features the same hardware, but adds Cloud Maps for service templates and Cloud System Automation, a combination of management and automation software from HP OpenView and the Opsware stack.

It is in this realm that HP has technology of value, said MLS Property Networks’ Lavallee, but unfortunately, it’s not an option for his environment.

“The Matrix product is awesome,” he said, citing its automated multi-step provisioning capabilities. However, it is only available for bladed environments, and his firm only uses rackmount servers.

Generally speaking, misguided product line-ups appear to be typical of HP these days. The AppSystem brainchild, Lavallee suggested, probably resulted from internal competition between different product teams. “I love HP, but they’re trying to do too much,” he said, and “the message is getting muddy.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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