There's a bidding war blazing over enterprise and virtual-environment storage specialist 3PAR (NYSE: PAR). Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) has stepped in to trump last week's offer sheet from Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) with a 33% higher bid. HP's offer raises the stock to $28 per share and the enterprise value to a cool $1.6 billion.

3PAR shareholders couldn't be happier -- especially if all the newfound attention results in another round or two of higher bids. Most other common bid improvements are not available, since we're already looking at all-cash contracts, and at least Dell's advances are fully approved by 3PAR's own board.

I fully expect Dell to come back to the table with another offering. The company has been working its way into enterprise storage with a methodical acquisition strategy, and it would dearly love to add another piece to the puzzle. HP, on the other hand, already looms large in the very market where 3PAR makes a living; its bid looks more like an attempt to stop Dell from gaining an advantage than to build something great of HP's own.

Still, both Dell and HP are paying a lot here for an unprofitable company with less than $200 million in 2009 revenues. I don't see either EMC (NYSE: EMC) or Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) stepping into this battle, because EMC is already a profitable giant in the virtualized storage field, and Oracle's Sun Microsystems subsidiary was never a big enough storage vendor to place this high a value on such a niche play. NetApp (Nasdaq: NTAP) might love to own 3PAR, but it can ill afford to put undue stress on its relatively tight balance sheet with an all-cash deal this big.

That leaves the ball firmly in Dell's court. I don't expect a long, dramatic battle here, but there should be one or two shots left to exchange.

Who'll walk away with the prize? Discuss 3PAR's future home in the comments below.