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Don't be afraid, dear readers, should your servers begin to sprout ears or feet. Even if you can't see it, your data center is evolving and Hewlett-Packard wants to help.

HP paraded most of its top executives on stage at a Tuesday event to roll out what it calls the Darwin reference architecture. It's unclear exactly what Darwin is, but HP described it as "a standards based framework that leverages best-of-breed components, creates a new level of integration between business and IT, lowers IT acquisition and operating costs and makes CDs open themselves from their plastic wrappers." OK, we made the last one up.

If that list looks at all familiar, it's because Sun, IBM and HP itself have been promoting this vague set of concepts for some time, as their vision of the data center's future. Sun calls its plan N1, IBM has On Demand Computing and HP has its Adaptive Enterprise.

The presentation on Darwin did not really help explain the technology or how it differs from the Adaptive Enterprise. Although, HP certainly considers Darwin a subset of the latter.

HP's CTO Shane Robison listed off various standards such as UDDI, iSCSI, FCIP, CIM, GRID, J2EE, and .Net, saying these all play a key role in Darwin. But listing protocols does not a reference architecture make, so we turned to Nora Denzel, a VP in charge of software, for help.

HP has taken repeated shots from analysts since its acquisition of Compaq Computer for having a fragmented product strategy. HP's old Unix team wanted to sell its servers and barely mentioned the Intel-based systems from Compaq in customer pitches. HP lacked the "we'll sell you anything" approach IBM has espoused.

Denzel pointed to Darwin as the answer to any confusion. If you ask HP its software strategy, the company will roll out a clear map or architecture of the technology it expects to play an important role in coming years. The same can be said for servers, networking and storage.

"The Darwin architecture is our way of distilling everything down," Denzel said. "We wanted to say, 'Here is a way to codify what we are thinking about.'"

Denzel doesn't deny that HP, Sun and IBM have similar visions. All of the companies want to manage hardware made by a variety of vendors instead of just their own. In addition, they are all rolling out software that automates many management tasks and helps to make sure systems are always up and running.

By some accounts, HP holds a lead over its rivals with the first part of the puzzle. HP has been working on UDC for two years and been able to manage data centers made up of multivendor gear. Sun sells product similar to those from HP but has not been working on mastering the technology for as long. IBM has just started to join the race, but won't have multivendor management till year end.

Team Work

HP brought an analyst and a few customers on stage to prove its success with the Adaptive Enterprise thus far. Any comments from the group, however, were tainted by the Gartner analyst's opening remark.

"I am really thrilled to be with the HP team," said a gushing Madeline Hanewinckel, a member of Gartner Global Consulting.

Again, the rehearsed exchange between Hanewinckel and the users did little to shed light on Darwin or the Adaptive Enterprise.

One product announced on the day, however, did appear to be a step in the right direction toward HP's vision.

HP rolled out its Virtual Server Environment software designed to help customers manage workloads on Unix systems. The product was built around an "enhanced" version of HP-UX Workload Manager made by HP.

Peter Blackmore, head of HP's enterprise business, explained that the Virtual Server Environment software offers enhanced dynamic domains and dynamic partitioning. The software will examine what applications are running on a server and then in real-time make sure each one receives the needed processor power, memory and bandwidth. Users can set policies ahead of time for how they would like applications to respond in various scenarios.

Similar software should be available for Windows and Linux in the next year, Denzel added.

HP also announced a new blade server product. The ProLiant BL20p server uses 3.06GHz Xeon chips, making it one of the fastest blades around.

To her credit, HP CEO Carly Fiorina brought the audience as close as possible to understanding what the day was about. She said HP will go into customers' data centers and help them assess changes that need to be made either to speed up their networks, dispose of unneeded applications or to get the most usage out of their hardware.

Once these points of pain are identified, HP's services team comes in and describes how the Adaptive Enterprise and Darwin can solve the problems.

"This is what we would like to describe as the ultimate state of fitness," she said. "This does not require companies to throw everything out and start over. This is a state of fitness that can be achieved in a very step by step, methodical way."

All of this is part of the evolution happening in the data center, Fiorina said. Sadly, she did not mention the servers with ears and feet but you should start getting ready for them. ®

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