Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of the LeftHand Networks shows how cluster storage is going mainstream – and how HP plans to be right in the middle of it. First PolyServe and now LeftHand.

This is about commodity-based clusters
Not iSCSI or GigE or 10 GigE as a storage interconnect. Fibre Channel’s failure to move downmarket – and Infiniband’s similar problem – means GigE is the only game in town.

Reaching the huge, not currently imploding, SMB market requires meeting people where they live. SMBs don’t live in Fibre Channel glass houses. GigE isn’t ideal, but it’s cheap and it works.

Did HP overpay?
$360 million isn’t pocket change, but it is only about 4x the $86 million investors put in. The investors get some nice coin, but it isn’t the 10-bagger they were hoping for.

Once the Lefties go through the interminable internal HP meat grinder, sales will grow rapidly. I suspect they weren’t up to Isilon’s $100M in sales – maybe $70M – but LeftHand was much closer to profitability. Net net: the price looks fair for a market leader in a high-growth market.

Battle of the competing cluster storage visions. Polyserve handles files; LeftHand blocks. EMC’s Maui is aimed at large-scale distributed file storage, a utility that ISP’s might resell to SMBs, but nothing an SMB would implement on their own.

Which will win – and there’s room for both – rests on the answer to the question Are there economies of scale in storage?. If there are, small-scale clusters sales will suffer and Maui should win.

The StorageMojo take
This is cluster storage market skirmishing, not a pitched battle. That will come but right now everyone is feeling their way, coming into the market from different directions, waiting to see what clicks.

Right now though, HP seems to have the strongest position. XIV is too new; Maui even newer; Lustre too complex; Isilon is digging out of a big hole. HP has the pole position with implementable products today and the services to back them up. Should be a powerful combination.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Disclosure: I’ve done some work for HP, Isilon and Sun.