Hewlett-Packard boosts storage line with LeftHand Networks acquisition

Buying LeftHand Networks will bolster HP's storage story, solution providers said.

Hewlett-Packard announced today it will acquire LeftHand Networks for $360 million, a move that partners said will fill gaps in HP's storage lineup.

The pressure to improve the HP storage portfolio heightened after Dell's acquisition of EqualLogic earlier this year. EqualLogic, an innovative provider of low-cost iSCSI storage area network (SAN) solutions, also happened to have some valuable channel relationships that could come in handy for partner-challenged Dell.

HP's LeftHand Networks buy and Dell's earlier acquisition demonstrate "the value these up-and-coming players have to some of the big vendors," said Scott Winslow, president of Winslow Technology Group, a Boston-based storage solution provider.

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Sometimes, "the smaller guys are the ones with the latest and greatest stuff," Winslow said.

David Cantu, vice president and COO of Redapt Systems in Redmond, Wash., said HP's acquisition of LeftHand Networks "makes a lot of sense."

"HP lost some competitive ground to Dell when Dell bought EqualLogic, just in terms of the iSCSI space and having a product that is well-developed," said Cantu, whose company partners with both HP and Dell.

Decisive Business Solutions COO Pete Busam said when he went into accounts with HP storage as part of a solution, he inevitably ran into Dell/EqualLogic and LeftHand.

"If HP wants to win share against EqualLogic, this was the way to do it," Busam said. "HP had a true gap in the iSCSI world and this gets rid of that. Now they can leverage storage across an entire enterprise," Busam said.

Mike Daher, CEO of Denali Advanced Integration, Redmond, Wash., agreed. " HP needed to extend its storage and make it more adaptive to compete with EMC and Dell/EqualLogic."

Daher expects more vendor consolidation in the next few years. "The storage sector right now is a very crowded space. "

HP's rivals -- and even some of its partners -- have said in the past that HP already has a fairly confusing mix of storage products, and the LeftHand Networks acquisition could just add to that confusion. Bruce Kornfeld, executive vice president of marketing for Compellent, an HP storage competitor, said he gets the rationale of HP's move.

"They're looking for some innovative technology that they didn't have in-house," he said.

Still, for customers and partners, there will be a learning curve.

"The VARs will have to learn about and differentiate between HP's MSA, low-end all-in-one and EVA lines, and now LeftHand," Kornfeld said. "That means adding sales or training."

Others took a more optimistic view of the LeftHand acquisition. Brian Deely, general manager of Graymar Business Solutions, a Timonium, Md.-based HP partner, said HP is getting a name brand in LeftHand Networks. That could address the perception that HP's storage options were lacking.

"I would say HP already had pretty much of the storage market covered, even at the low end with [MSA products], but this broadens their portfolio and gets them a recognizable name," Deely said.

With big companies, some products get lost in the mix, he said.

HP has been flush with cash, expanding its existing stock buyback plan and continuing its acquisition push. Deely said he expects big companies like HP and IBM to continue to purchase smaller and maybe distressed tech players.

LeftHand may reinforce HP storage at the low end, and the newly announced HP Oracle Database Machine -- logging in with a hefty $650,000 hardware-only price -- may burnish HP's credentials among very large data centers, Deely said.

And Cantu said he was "super excited" about the acquisition.

"We liked the LeftHand product but just didn't have the resources to go after another product line," he said.

News writer Colin Steele contributed to this report.

This story was updated with additional reseller comments on Friday.

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