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HP kills slow-selling marketing miracle

UDC - Years ahead of its time, purpose and cost

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One of the more annoying and expensive pests in the IT industry was exterminated this month when HP gave its Utility Data Center (UDC) package a sustained blast of marketing pesticide.

Hard as it is to believe, HP's grand wrapping of the smartest servers, storage, networking and software products on the planet could not find enough buyers. HP confirmed UDC's demise saying some 200 staffers working on the effort will have to be relocated to other projects or search for jobs at a company with even grander vision. In the end, it was the massive price for a UDC installation that culled "the vision," bucking the age-old adage that customers will buy anything with a fancy enough ribbon. Parts of the UDC technology will be spread throughout HP's product line with virtualization software, for example, being added to blade servers and automation goodies finding their way onto storage systems.

There was no word on what will happen to HP's army of data center-cooling robots, although sources have indicated the robots are in line for executive-level promotions. Good work, boys!

There's really no end to the comedy that surrounds HP's decision to end UDC. The 19,100 white papers, news stories and analyst hypings have been replaced with but 7 obituaries - 5 of them from the same organization. All the tempting headlines such as "UDC: Transforming Data center economics," "UDC: Enabling enhanced datacenter agility," and "HP Utility Data Center biedt ‘on-demand’ rekencapaciteit" are gone.

Will these catch phrases be missed? Not really. HP boldly started UDC years ago as a kind of data center-of-the-future proof-of-concept. Phew. Numerous vendors have similar efforts, but to HP's credit, it probably got the closest to the end goal. HP has sophisticated technology for making hardware from various vendors work together, for automatically balancing workloads and - with the robots - even for cooling a data center on-the-fly. Awesome stuff. The stuff that dreams are made of.

It was the UDC that really gave rise to HP's Adaptive Enterprise marketing vision. It's Adaptive Enterprise and not UDC that goes up against IBM's On-Demand Computing and Sun Microsystems' N1 marketing visions. UDC, however, really was the meat backing up the Adaptive Enterprise commercial.

For years, reporters have charged that companies would not be willing to spend millions to gut out their existing data centers and commit to UDC no matter how great potential cost-savings and management benefits would be down the road. HP denied such allegations again and again.

HP, however, could never provide many customers that had bought into the UDC vision. It would point to one or two large installations and then claim that tens of thousands of customers were using parts of the UDC technology every day. At times, HP seemed to believe its own hype, talking about rolling out mini versions of UDC to small and medium-sized customers.

Then HP admitted that almost no customers would buy into all that UDC required. This has left a bad taste in the mouth of the few UDC clients out there.

"They should have talked to us," Virginia Price, application systems engineer at Wells Fargo Bank told CRN. "But I guess they just couldn't afford the program."

The whole situation is painfully reminiscent of EMC's decision to cancel the wondrous WideSky management software program. It's also similar to Sun announcing that it had a whole lineup of N1 software only to then spend the next two years acquiring companies that currently provide the backbone of N1 - weak backbone that it is. And, let's not forget IBM's StorageTank file system that arrived years late and only capable of accomplishing a fraction of what it was billed to do.

It's nothing short of astonishing that the very press outlets who spent years hyping UDC could not utter word one about its demise. This just proves the power of marketing and empty promises in the golden age of computing. Kudos to CNET for breaking the news on UDC. Ironically, you can still see an ad for UDC on the very page announcing the program's end. (At least you could see it, until our story posted. Funny that.) ®

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