HP is developing a model-driven automation system that would take basic instructional knowledge and represent it in a form that a piece of software can read, understand, and interpret, across the board and throughout the entire life-cycle of the server. Data centre automation can mean so many things, from storage management, server management, and even power and cooling management. At a recent media conference, HP outlined its goal of a product that would use policies and objectives to manage the entire lifecycle of a customer's systems and applications. "For example, if I were to ask somebody to get me a Coke, I wouldn't tell them to walk out the door, turn the knob, open the door, and so on," HP Lab's Kumar Goswami said. "I just have to give them the request and hopefully they have an understanding on how to get the Coke. So that's the model we want for the computer to be able to follow." Goswami says many companies have also turned to virtualisation to consolidate and improve their server efficiency. He cited the aftermath of the HP-Compaq deal as an example of this movement, with HP's current goal to reduce its 80 current data centers down to about six. But while Goswami said that creating virtual machines can help cut their data centre totals, he warned that it would create another management issue. "We're going toward things like multiple wave processors, eight cores per processor, and if you have let's say 10 virtual machines per core, you can certainly see the management nightmare that these data centers create," Goswami said. "While virtualization gives us all lot of freedom, it's very hard to wire up a machine and you have to get it hooked up to the right network to make sure that it's working properly. These things take time and a human being can never do it the same every time." This is where HP said its automated data center solutions would come into play and help customers working on a virtualized environment. Brian Babineau, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said that while HP has been reasonably competitive in this space, especially in terms of systems management technology, he feels that the company has some areas to improve upon. "HP is still working to integrate the Mercury portfolio, which tries to help organizations measure performance work systems testing and load balancing," Babineau said, referring to the company's acquisition of Mercury Interactive last year. "I think it has, on the systems side of their business, focused on power efficiency, especially on their blade servers. But on a management software side, HP is still integrating technologies to try and help customers manage inventory, so that's an area needing improvement." Babineau also said HP has to improve on the data protection and archiving side of its software business. Some of HP's competition in the data center automation market includes EMC, IBM, Opsware, Veritas, and BladeLogic. Vance Loiselle, vice-president of marketing at BladeLogic, said that the solutions offered by companies such as HP or IBM are "first generation" technologies because those companies where focused on desktop management problems for so long. "BladeLogic has a big architectural advantage right now in managing a unified approach to cross-platform configurations at a granular level," Loiselle said. "We don't really see those companies as a threat today, because they are so diversified in the things they have to focus on, they have not really made a concerted effort to focus strongly on the data center automation space like BladeLogic has." But, according to Babineau, the focus on automation becomes more important for enterprises, as well as SMBs, as IT becomes more limited. "Labor markets are tight, so every time you add a new storage system or network device you don't want to add a new person to manage it," Babineau said. "The ability to improve data center real estate utilization, data center power utilization and making sure you get the most out of your employees so you don't have to keep increasing headcount are certainly big areas on how companies are going to start rationalizing its investments."