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Usability Corner Interview with Chris McCall: Usability, Virtualization and SMB

By Mike Moroze, HP LeftHand Usability Corner

I sat down with Chris McCall the manager of product marketing in our Unified Storage Division (a part of HP's StorageWorks Division) to discuss how small and medium sized companies are looking at virtualization. What we're seeing is that more and more small and medium sized companies are finding that their virtualization requirements are similar to large enterprises. I asked Chris some question to help me understand the SMB and virtualization market better.

Usability Corner (UC): Virtualization seems to be taking off in the enterprise business space, do you see a similar trajectory for the Small-Medium Business (SMB)?  If so, why?

Chris McCall (CM):  No, I see a different trajectory for SMB.  Virtualization in the SMB space is not growing as fast as in the enterprise space because virtualization puts up a few roadblocks that make it difficult for SMB's to implement. They can limit the full potential of virtualization.  The biggest roadblock to virtualization is storage; for many SMB's, it's too expensive and requires too many resources to manage and implement. However, VMWare HA (high availability), and VMotion - require shared storage.

UC: Why would an SMB customer choose an HP LeftHand virtualization solution over another vendor's solution?

CM:  For SMB customers that expect their virtual environment to grow, HP LeftHand solutions provides a very cost-effective entry point which is massively scalable. Purchase what you want to today and grow it to whatever size you want -- maintaining HA. And for customers that don't want to deal with external storage we have the VSA (Virtual Storage Appliance) which transforms server disk drives into iSCSI SANs with the same level of scalability. 

UC: Usability can bring several competitive advantages to a product. Can you comment on what advantages you see our customers relying on in terms of the usability of the HP LeftHand solution? 

CM:  Virtual Server environments provide a very dynamic application environment. Customers can roll out new applications, change configurations, and move workloads around very easily. So what does that mean from a storage manageability perspective? It puts pressure on being able to change storage configurations more often. Any product that allows simple on-line storage configurations so your storage needs can change quickly and frequently is not only a competitive advantage but a requirement.  Our HP LeftHand P4000 Centralized Management Console allows us to do that easily - the GUI (Graphical User Interface) makes it simple without any downtime with your volumes.  

UC: What key usability advantages do you believe that the HP LeftHand solutions have over the competition?

CM:   Non-disruptive configuration changes, non-disruptive performance scaling, simple GUI requires less time to manage; Our solution provides for easy thin provisioning - there are no setting of thresholds, growth increments, etc. --- same with snapshots, you don't have to set reserves and there's no guesswork - the system takes care of all that for you.

UC: In the context of SMBs and virtualization - virtualization typically provides a fairly high ROI.  Would you agree that ROI is an important decision criterion for virtualization?  What other criteria are important for SMB storage decisions?

CM - ROI used to be the number one criteria; improving business continuity has become number one over the last year. For SMBs, business continuance has become more important because with virtualization, you're putting more eggs in fewer baskets.

UC: ROI of usability is also frequently referenced as a reason to ensure usability is considered in product development. Would you agree?  What other reasons would there be to include usability in HP LeftHand solutions?

CM:  Yes absolutely - usability is all about ROI. Customer satisfaction and troubleshooting are also critical -- the easier it is to understand what's going on, the more likely you are to avoid potential downtime.

UC: How would you rate the usability of our solution for the SMB customer compared to our competitors?

CM:  Considering the comprehensive feature set provided in addition to simplicity, I honestly believe HP P4000 is the best- take a look at the Windows IT Pro article from by Michael Otey which just posted.

UC: What are the 3 or so main pain points that virtualization is solving for the SMB customer?  How does our solution help alleviate these pain points? 


  • First - Cost - you can run more apps on less servers.  However, this means you're putting more of your eggs in fewer baskets, which leads to the next issue;

  • Second - Maintaining high availability

  • Third -   Improve IT environment flexibility 

HP LeftHand addresses the cost issue by providing a solution that allows you to buy only what you need to today and grow it non-disruptively. Also, thin provisioning cuts initial outlay, and for customers that want to leverage server disk drives, VSA eliminates the need for external storage hardware. High availability is achieved by HP LeftHand's highly redundant and highly available solutions that leverage Network RAID in addition to the traditional HW RAID. These solutions protect against more than just disk drives and controller failures. Our system can stay online during full node failures, air conditioning failures, power outages, etc. - applications never lose access to their data.

Our solutions improve your IT environment's flexibility.  All configuration changes, and increasing performance and capacity can be done non-disruptively which delivers a flexible storage environment which you need for flexible IT environment.

UC: Any thoughts on how HP LeftHand can improve its customer focus in designing and developing solutions that meet our customer needs?

CM:  Ultimately, we don't want users using our UI, we want it so simple that it rolls into the IT environment and you don't have to manage storage as a separate entity, everything just works... Storage tasks are automated with higher level IT tasks -- like rolling out applications or increasing application performance. 

UC:  Thanks Chris!

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HP LeftHand usability corner: Let's get this party started!

 By Mike Moroze, HP LeftHand Usability Lead

I'm back! Sorry it's been a while but it's been pretty exciting as we (LeftHand) transition into HP StorageWorks. Look for more frequent posts going forward...

So, this post is a bit different than my previous posts -  in this post, I will show you how easy it is to set up the HP LeftHand Starter SAN using a screen capture video. The video is relatively short - less than 4 minutes - and shows just how easy it is to go from a couple of storage nodes that are available, but not yet in use, to an operational SAN ready to accept data.

The video starts with using a wizard to assign two storage nodes to a management group. Before that, you need to set up the storage nodes on your network and assign them IP addresses. You should also know what IP addresses you have available for a Virtual IP for load balancing, what NTP server addresses you plan on using, and what the naming conventions are that you want to use, etc. Once the nodes are discoverable on the network and you have all the info you need, you can fire up the wizard and in less than 15 minutes be ready to write data. Pretty simple - you're guided the whole way. Most of the time is spent on the SAN performing its tasks to set up the storage network. In reality, it only takes a couple of minutes of your time to input the necessary data.

The starter SAN is a great way to get started with just the storage you need now -- allowing you to easily grow your SAN as your storage needs increase.

The HP LeftHand SAS Starter SAN lets you start small and keep your SAN system simple as you grow. The most scalable entry-level SAN available today, the LeftHand Starter SAN is perfect for first time virtualization projects. Buy only what you need today knowing that you can scale your storage network non-disruptively to more than 320 disk drives.

Integrated replication capabilities, thin provisioning, and snapshots are included to ensure easy SAN management as the environment becomes more complex. Each SAS Starter SAN comes standard with SAN/iQ® software training, three years of support, and a fully integrated, enterprise class feature set. Everything you need to get up and running quickly, and all for an affordable price.

Check out the video and let me know what you think:

So, let's get this party started with an easy-to-use, and easy to grow, HP LeftHand Starter SAN Solution.

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  • 25+ years experience around HP Storage. The go-to guy for news and views on all things storage..
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