The enterprise storage market segment for high-end Just a Bunch of Disks (JBOD) arrays is about to heat up again as Hewlett-Packard (HP), led by President and CEO Carly Fiorina, announces the highest capacity frames available in the industry. HP's next-generation XP512 boxes (for which Hitachi is the OEM) essentially double the capacity of available systems. HP has become—at least for the moment—the capacity leader. The XP512 devices, which can be configured as JBOD or RAID arrays, are the battleships of storage networking, and size counts in projects such as consolidation and Internet commerce.

According to HP, the HP SureStore Disk Array XP512 will also be two to three times as fast as its main competitors, something that EMC and IBM will surely dispute. Because I don't know how the numbers were generated and which software was used to do what, I won't offer any speeds, except to say that the claim certainly makes these systems worth a look. HP's software offerings continue to increase in number and interest.

The capacity numbers, however, can't be disputed. The XP512 specs for the full implementation are as follows: up to 512 disks and eventually 24TB (non-fibre channel disks) and up to 928 host connections. HP has implemented a 6.4GBps crossbar internal switch, 32 fibre channel and Enterprise Systems Connection (ESCON) ports, 32 back-end fibre channel Icops, and a 32GB cache.

HP might hold its capacity and throughput lead for several months, at least until EMC announces its next-generation flagship products. At the moment, the current EMC Symmetrix line tops out at 19TB of storage capacity. The expected announcement of a new Symmetrix architecture might take place sometime in spring 2001. Meanwhile, HP emphasizes its product line's differentiating strengths, which include mirrored write-caches, multiple copies of microcode stored with rollback capability, and better hardware redundancy.

At the moment, HP's XP256 product line doesn't lead the industry in overall storage capacity, delivering a capacity of 11TB based on 47GB fibre channel hard disks. But by this fall, with the introduction of 73GB fibre channel hard disks, XP256 capacity will increase to 18TB. Both the XP256 and XP512 boxes will work with HP's OpenView XP and its smart plugins. And, in the fall, HP will add new performance management software and a load-balancing package to its storage software portfolio.

In the year that has passed since the company switched from EMC-supplied disk arrays to Hitachi-supplied frames, HP reports that it has held its market share and doubled its revenues. HP is clearly a storage industry leader. In the high-end disk-array marketplace, HP's second-place market share is far behind EMC's. However, HP's new systems should make the company is a player.