Hewlett-Packard made a major announcement in December: their grid-based StoreServ 7000 based on 3PAR software. 3PAR has been selling enterprise-class storage for almost a decade and HP is building on that legacy with a radical take on enterprise storage.

HP calls it converged storage. The concept is simple: enterprise-class scale-out storage that is configurable to meet a wide range of application requirements. Flexible commodity hardware to mix-and-match to meet requirements, while configuring SSDs, hard drives or tape makes it easy to meet a wide range of price-performance ratios.

It is the enterprise analog of Google’s and Amazon’s cloud infrastructures whose scale, flexibility and cost are up-ending traditional IT. I’ve been looking for this from a major vendor since I wrote about the Google File System 7 years ago.

GFS breaks that model and shows us what can be done when the entire storage paradigm is rethought. Build the availability around the devices, not in them, treat the storage infrastructure as a single system, not a collection of parts, extend the file system paradigm to include much of what we now consider storage management, including virtualization, continuous data protection, load balancing and capacity management.

GFS is not the future. But it shows us what the future can be.

A choice, not an echo
The prevailing vendor model is the stovepipe: for every function within the enterprise there is a specialized product or set of products. These stovepipes are then glued together with a management layer that is supposed to manage everything from a single pane of glass – but never does.

Competition is stovepipe vs. stovepipe. The big iron arrays from EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi all compete, in theory, on availability, performance, support and cost.

The reality? Account control is often the deciding factor. Competition has stagnated over the last 10 years.

EMC is the most successful stovepipe peddler. Their technology publishing model – buy young companies that have crossed the chasm and sell the hell out of them – reduces their engineering risk at the cost of grievous incompatibility.

Storage as a layer, not a pipe
But as long as EMC can afford to buy the best – and they can – competitors are always at a disadvantage. But HP’s converged storage model changes that – just as Amazon has forever changed enterprise IT.

HP says they’ve already won 1200 customers for their converged storage line.

The StorageMojo take
No one is going to out-EMC EMC. They have the largest collection of best-of-breed point products in the industry.

Dave Donatelli, formerly of EMC, knows this well. Thus HP’s flanking move with converged storage.

Assuming HP can deliver a substantial fraction of Amazon’s benefits inside the data center, they will do very well. But the real magic will come when customers start interconnecting islands of converged storage to create a storage layer – like the network layer – in their infrastructure.

There are substantial customer political obstacles, but Amazon’s success has changed how CFOs look at IT. Smart CIOs are listening and responding.

Congratulations to HP and the 3PAR team for coming up with the only credible challenge to EMC in the last 15 years. I wish them every success.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. The friendly folks at HP flew me to Europe last year to get the announcement first hand. But I’d like a technical briefing from a 3PAR architect.