Not quite four years ago HP acquired LeftHand Networks in Boulder, Colorado. Looking back now, a $360M acquisition seems like a bargain when you compare it to some more recent deals in the storage industry. But the LeftHand acquisition was a leap of faith in a number of ways. At the time LeftHand was a leader in iSCSI storage, for IP network-based storage area networks, and there was a lot of debate about how fast iSCSI would grow and whether it would become a real alternative to Fibre Channel. LeftHand was also focused on storage for small and medium businesses, and SMB solutions were seen by many as the next big growth segment in storage. The success and rapid growth of LeftHand have proven that both iSCSI and SMB were good bets.
Perhaps overlooked was the fact that LeftHand was really a software product. It was designed to be a complete software-based storage array that could run on industry-standard servers. I remember the first time I saw the LeftHand product was about two years before HP acquired the company. I was at an event in Florida and a LeftHand sales rep wanted me to take a look at his product, so he gave me a CD. I asked him if the CD contained a PowerPoint or documentation and he said, no, it's the whole product. He said you could run a real SAN right on your PC. I thought it was a gimmick at the time.
The way LeftHand and HP have sold the product was as a packaged system including hardware. There has been a very popular software-only version of LeftHand called the Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA) which was the version that sales guy gave me on the CD. The VSA was used by some customers in real situations, but was mostly used for demos, so potential customers could try out the interface, and it has been extraordinarily popular as a trial system that customers could download. There is a bit of a cult of LeftHand VSA users out there who have always wanted HP to "go big" with VSA.
Fast forward to 2012: A couple of things have changed. First, HP has continued to invest in LeftHand, and the software has gotten better and better. Second, industry standard servers have gotten more powerful. The result is the some of the limits of the Lefthand software-only version have gone away. Today it is an extremely capable production-ready SAN solution. There are a growing number of customers that use it in retail, finance, and hosted services. Some of them have very large implementations.
Another big change is that server virtualization is now the norm, not the exception. IT managers are used to running services of all kinds as software appliances on general purpose servers, and it works. The idea of running a SAN in software as a service is now something people want.
Introducing StoreVirtual VSA: Today we are unveiling the next generation of the LeftHand VSA. The new StoreVirtual VSA is a production-ready, software-only, fully virtualized storage system. We continue to hear rumors of other companies that are planning to bring out software-only storage systems, and we believe the will be an entirely new "segment" in the storage marketplace. We also believe that HP got here first, and that we have a five-year lead. Over the next few years you can expect that HP will be leveraging the experience and base technology we have in this area to enable other software-only versions of certain of our products. All of these will have a few things in common - they will be:
- Fully virtualized
- Run on industry-standard servers
These items make the characteristics of this new category of storage products. These characteristics are entirely consistent with our vision for Converged Infrastructure. Over the next few years this segment is going to really take off, so when it does, remember that you heard it here first.