If the Data Center Is the Computer the Fight Is on to Control the Ecosystem

Server room and devicesLiquid Computing, a startup going head-to-head with giants, today launched its own version of unified computing gear that stands in almost direct contrast to the announcements made yesterday by Cisco, EMC and VMware about Vblocks and the new Acadia services arm. Also today, HP laid out its vision and new software for a converged computing infrastructure, the heir to its adaptive infrastructure products of the last four years. These two announcements are the latest in a web of partnerships that are taking place in the data center infrastructure space as folks try to combine computer, storage and networking into some kind of monolithic compute fabric (GigaOM Pro subscription required). The end result of such efforts will be to make the data center function like a giant computer, and the fight is on to provide the component parts plus the OS.
Liquid unveiled its Liquid Elements software that will work with Intel-based servers and NetApp storage gear. The software and Liquid’s switch can be combined to deliver the same sort of unified fabric computing that Cisco has been selling. Liquid differs from the Vblocks on offer through Cisco/EMC/VMware in that the software can run on any Intel-based server, either virtualized or in a bare metal implementation, said Vikram Desai, CEO of Liquid Computing. Cisco’s servers use Intel chips, but they are all about running virtual machines.
HP’s announcements focus on its version of the data center OS that it calls the Infrastructure Operating Environment, its FlexFabric Virtual I/O, and what it calls Virtual Resource Pools, which is a not-that-fancy-way of saying virtualized clusters of server and storage hardware based on existing storage gear and operating systems. There’s also a piece that optimizes data center operations.
However, on the server side, HP has a big limitation right now in that its Flex Fabric virtual I/O software only works with HP’s blade servers. So to really get the benefits of a converged network fabric, you’re gonna have to have HP blade for now. Doug Oathout, VP of Green IT at HP, says the company plans to make Flex Fabric work on other hardware, but offered no time line.
What’s in Store for Storage

That’s the server+networking side, so what’s happening in storage? HP’s Virtual resource pools are pretty compelling in that they can work with any hypervisor and can accommodate applications that are running on bare metal servers without virtualization and a variety of storage gear. HP today also announced its HP X9000 boxes which contain software from its IBRIX acquisition. They offer enterprises the ability to create up to 16 petabytes of virtualized storage. It’s like having the ability to open a door in any room in your home and find an empty walk-in closet when needed.
On the storage side, Cisco’s servers can see it, but they can’t control or talk to the storage infrastructure. That’s why it needs EMC and VMware working with it to make a truly unified platform. Liquid Element can talk to any Ethernet-based storage gear, although it works best with storage from NetApp.
When it comes to services, HP will help you figure out how to build out this converged infrastructure and Liquid will rely on selling though channels. The creation of Acadia may signal that Cisco was having a hard time selling its equipment into organizations through a channel that couldn’t figure out how to make its gear work, Liquid’s Desai pointed out. It also may show how deals whereby large IT vendors have snapped up systems integrators (Dell buying Perot Systems or HP buying EDS) have forced Cisco to offer its own services arm in order to push its gear where those others may not.
As cloud computing and delivering IT on demand get taken over by the larger vendors, and are made palatable for enterprise customers, companies from small to large are cobbling together their vision for this highly virtualized data center infrastructure that basically acts and thinks like one big computer. Given how different the products are when it comes to openness and working with other equipment, it looks like we’re heading for a Mac vs. PC fight in the data center.