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Ash Ashutosh, Chief Technologist, HP StorageWorks

Ash AshutoshFresh off a an blockbuster acquisition bid for Mercury Interactive and a solid quarterly earnings report, HP  is rolling.

The company has been busy buying new assets and shedding old ones, but the innovation drum beats on for the venerable vendor.

Last month, executives from HP's StorageWorks division opened up their Marlborough, Mass., headquarters to give journalists a sneak peek at a new family of storage servers for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) that will be more powerful than current appliances on the market.

Ash Ashutosh, CTO for HP StorageWorks, presided over the news. Ashutosh joined the systems vendor in 2005 after selling his storage resource management (SRM) company, AppIQ, to HP.

AppIQ made the popular StorageAuthority Suite of storage resource management software, which HP was already reselling as Storage Essentials at the time of the purchase.

After the event, Ashutosh discussed life at HP, the progression of Storage Essentials and the SMB market.

Q: What's the transition like going from startups like AppIQ to a behemoth like HP?

There are a couple of different facets from the transition. One is market reach. Clearly, there is no comparing the market reach you can get from HP to what AppIQ had, or any other small company or mid-size company.

The ability to get products to a much bigger audience is a big advantage. On the development side, because HP has a bigger market reach, it can invest more.

In terms of the sheer scope of what this whole thing takes -- internal development, external marketing, external sales -- you have a bigger opportunity.

The challenges are bringing in the new company and the culture and finding out the bigger company's execution pace and delivery pace and go-to-market strategy is on a different time scale.

One thing that's been very attractive at HP is there is a lot of focus on execution.

It's very similar to what we've had as a smaller company, right down to accountability for individual managers.

You go to a meeting and it's all about, "What's your scorecard?" It's not about "What is your wonderful strategy all about and what are you going to do five years from now?"

That has helped the transition go much more smoothly.

Q: When you talk about accountability, you're talking about who to commend when something goes right and who to blame when something goes wrong?

Yes, because for many companies, if something goes right, everyone takes the credit. If something goes wrong, nobody takes the blame. That is different from HP.

Then there's the whole facet of how the industry is changing. There are no more point solutions.

Look at somebody who is domain specific. A storage company, a server company, or a software company can grow up to a point, but the commoditization and standardization is requiring people to grow much, much bigger to compete.

Are you integrated with OpenView? Are you working with servers? A lot of these companies in the storage space really struggle to expand out, including our friends in Hopkinton [EMC].

HP comes with tremendous value there. When [AppIQ] came here, we had the ability to integrate with OpenView and with the server group, and seeing that the integration wasn't going to be a nightmare, which typically it is.

HP is all open-standards-based. That made it even more exciting -- not only the ability to take our product and our group to a much bigger audience, but we could take it along with a whole bunch of other groups within HP.

Q: Would you have seen such a positive integration had you joined up with IBM, Hitachi Data Systems or an EMC? AppIQ also had partnerships with those companies.

I couldn't answer that question because I've never worked for either of those companies. In our case, we had two designated HP people, along with an HP HR person who literally lived in AppIQ offices from the day the deal was announced.

They went through the entire process for four weeks before the merger was closed. That capability to integrate people, integrate HR streams, technology, to integrate a lot of activity to go to market, helps a lot.

Q: How has Storage Essentials been augmented since HP released it last fall following the integration of AppIQ?

We will enable you to better manage storage as a utility -- to completely get to the point where you can virtualize what your storage is to the control pack.

That's why, when we were talking about virtualization, I was saying there are many different ways to get virtualization.

Not all of this has to be switching between a server and a storage system. We did that to the control factor because we realized our customer doesn't want to buy new things just to get a better management of this infrastructure.

You can't say to them: "Hey, you've got 200 things; that's tough to manage. Buy 20 more," to make it easier to manage. That doesn't work.

So, the control factor of being able to take what you have, deliver it with a bunch of services and manage and operate it as a utility is what storage resource management is about.

We're taking this to the mid-market, lowering the footprint down to something that is much more manageable. There's various ways to optimize how you control your infrastructure.

We chose the path of least intrusiveness and one that works with the existing environment, which is the basic requirement, just to even get the discussion going with customers.

Q: You intimated the forthcoming HP SMB boxes would have pretty advanced software for devices that normally appear in this market. How so?

Data management needs are no less complex than those of big enterprises. They need to have performance, tiered storage and to protect their data no less than the big guys.

But they don't have an administrator, so the very fact that you don't have a human being who can be trained on your product fundamentally means your product has to be simple to use and very, very affordable.

In this product family, you will see us integrate software that interacts and integrates with everything else out there.

A part of Storage Essentials has been built into it, but we haven't taken what is traditionally built for a very sophisticated administrator, or a very sophisticated product, and dropped it into this one because then you miss the whole point here.

We moved it one level higher. That's the best I can tell you.

SMBs going forward will lead, at least on the management side, the innovation required in the market, because they require cheaper, more integrated, more simplified management.

For example, the technical complexity of an iPod is extremely huge, but it's easy to use. That's the trick: Getting it down to that level of simplicity.