Imaging fuels storage demands

Leading executives from Hewlett-Packard met in Thailand in December to discuss their strategies for "extended storage" solutions, such as emerging optical disc and magnetic tape products. Image & Data Manager was also there. Gerard Knapp reports.

Imaging fuels storage demands

Driven by memory-hungry technologies such as imaging and the internet, the demand for cost-effective computer storage solutions is growing at an unprecedented rate.

The extended storage market is expected to grow from a US$17 billion market in 1996 to be worth US$25.6 billion in 1998, according to IDC.

At a two-day conference in Phuket, Thailand, Hewlett-Packard outlined its plans for these "extended" storage solutions. In particular, HP focused on the Asia Pacific and Japan markets, which may only account for 8% of HP's total storage business, but is the "fastest growing region" for the company, commented Mike Matson, group general manager of HP's Information Storage Group (ISG).

Although the conference only reflected HP's view, it is fairly indicative of overall market trends, given HP's leadership in several storage sectors.

Since the company withdrew from magnetic hard disk drive manufacture last year - "the margins were too small and they became a commodity" - HP has been concentrating on the emerging optical storage technologies, as well as further developing the more established magnetic tape systems.

The optical and tape systems are what Mr Matson referred to as "extended storage" solutions, which differ from on-line hard disk-based RAID arrays, in that they provide either near-line or backup roles within organisations (although magneto optical technology's access rates have improved to 35 milliseconds with a read rate of 3.4MB per second).

What emerged from this conference was that no single technology or media is applicable to all users' storage needs. In fact, there are five major tape formats, which are all incompatible and on different development cycles.

A similar lack of compatibility applies to optical technologies, with the obvious exceptions being the CD-ROM and 5 1/4" magneto optical formats. From discussions with the array of HP AsiaPacific executives on hand at the conference, it's not lost on HP why these standardised formats are popular with users.

Internally, HP operates its ISG division as a separate business unit to its Computer Products Sales and Distribution (CPSD) arm, which manufactures the PC, server and deskjet product. The ISG division sells storage solutions separately to CPSD, whose resellers are apparently free to source storage product from other vendors if it means winning a contract.

The aim is "to keep secrets and stay competitive". While the former may be difficult to imagine, the latter keeps the storage division on its toes and prevents any proprietry approach to computing systems.

On the other hand, the ISG division sources many of its basic components from its rivals. The Colorado-based optical technology plant uses 5 1/4" MO drives from Sony, while the Bristol plant uses the reborn 8mm DLT (digital linear tape) drive from Quantum.

HP's manufacturing skill is in its jukebox robotics, product integration and perhaps above all, marketing. The company will exploit its "reputation for reliability" to provide complete storage solutions, explained Mr Matson in his opening address.

Even the branding of its storage products as SureStore is meant to re-affirm this reputation.

Overall, Mr Matson said HP predicts a 108% growth for server-level tape backup products in the AsiaPacific region, with 33% growth in library systems and 11% at the desktop level.