HP has launched the HP StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100), a file system and management console squeezed into a single rack. The company has designed the product in response to demand for increased storage from Web 2.0 companies such as photo-sharing and social-networking sites.

According to David Roberson, senior vice-president and general manager of the StorageWorks division, demand for storage is doubling every 18 to 24 months. Within five years, Roberson expects to see a "yottabyte year" when the industry as a whole ships one yottabyte of storage capacity.

HP is investing heavily in this area because it sees it as a big opportunity. "Enterprises will be putting much of their focus and spending there in the next two years. Currently, 45 percent of all hard drives in the world, from PCs to data centres, are sold by HP," he said.

Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, observed that managing many terabytes of storage is very different from taking care of a few hundred gigabytes on a PC.

"You reach a point where the sheer scale of what you're managing becomes the problem," Peters said.

He claimed that many vendors are moving toward this kind of platform, including IBM, with its recent acquisition of Israeli startup XIV, and EMC. And he argued that the ExDS9100 promises to be a good solution because of the care HP is putting into it.

"There's nothing huge, bulk, cheap and easy to use that's already on the market," Peters said.

HP is talking up the ExDS9100 as a way to help companies scale up their storage and computing capacity and manage that capacity more easily. Today, in organisations with large amounts of data, it may take several administrators to manage one petabyte of data. HP wants to turn that around so a single administrator can manage several petabytes, Roberson said.

The platform consists of an HP BladeSystem chassis with room for 16 blade servers, in a rack that also accommodates storage controllers and high-density 'storage blocks' with as many as 82 hard drives. A base configuration will consist of four blade servers and three storage blocks, with 246 terabytes (TB) of storage.

Customers will be able to add either type of capacity independently of the other. One rack will hold as much as 820TB, but an extra rack of storage can be added for a total of 1.64 petabytes.

Applications that access the storage will run directly on the blade servers, taking advantage of HP file-clustering software. This eliminates a tier of software, according to HP. Both servers and storage can be managed through one management console. In addition, the high density of the platform allows for efficient use of space, cooling and power, according to HP.

The ExDS9100 is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter. HP predicts it will cost less than $2 (£1) per GB in a typical configuration.