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4/5/2013
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HP Cloud Evangelist: We're All About OpenStack

Margaret Dawson, an outspoken veteran of startups who has become HP's cloud guru, plays up OpenStack over Amazon's potential for HP customers.

Margaret Dawson, a new VP of product marketing and cloud evangelism, is the new face of Hewlett-Packard.

She's given to damn the torpedoes, straight-ahead answers, despite being part of an ancient and some would say, stumbling, Silicon Valley company. She gives off an air of certainty where one might expect to find temporizing or irresolution. She even ended a keynote address at Cloud Connect 2013 in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday with the statement that she recently "joined HP to win," not, she might have added, to become another executive fumbling confused messages.

As if to emphasize the old being replaced by the new, HP chairman Ray Lane, associated with the setbacks that followed the appointment of former CEO Leo Apotheker, resigned moments before Dawson concluded her address. (See our related story on Ray Lane's resignation. ) His move followed an annual meeting two weeks ago in which he and two other board members were opposed for re-election by some factions.

Dawson is cut somewhat from the Meg Whitman style of cloth. In previous jobs, she was used to working directly with the CEO, not only in managing product lines but also in determining an overall marketing message and setting strategy.

When asked in an interview after her keynote what was her responsibility for cloud services at HP, she answered in so many words: all of it. When asked who her team reports to at HP, she said COO Bill Veght, a veteran of the Microsoft effort to enter cloud computing "who's very strategic about cloud." Asked how HP will make headway in cloud services against both startups and established competition, her response is both thorough and determined. HP has "a lot of people who came from MySQL development and Linux communities... We've been involved with OpenStack almost from the beginning," and the company launched its own HP Cloud based on OpenStack infrastructure in three locations, she said.

[Want to learn more about one of the latest implementations of OpenStack, Nebula One? See Nebula One Debuts: OpenStack As Hardware.]

HP's hardware and networking units in the Enterprise Group have a huge stake in seeing HP's converged server and networking architecture succeed as a building block for cloud services, whether public or private. The company's ranks of consultants understand they must convince traditional HP hardware buyers that, if they're building private clouds, to do so with both OpenStack code and HP hardware.

It will be able to do so because "HP will add value and services through the OpenStack platform. We'll drive innovation on top of it," she said.

Dawson said she did her due diligence before joining HP as VP, product marketing and HP Cloud Services evangelist, and was struck by the level of commitment in the ranks. She doesn't disagree with an outsider's comment that HP's message on cloud has left a multi-faceted and not always coherent picture. Within HP, she says, "There's a depth of understanding (of cloud computing) across hardware and software units and across services. I see a lot of value these different groups are bringing to the table."

Asked whether OpenStack will succeed enough to allow these groups to achieve a major share of the cloud market, Dawson looked puzzled for a moment, then responded: "OpenStack is already a viable alternative. It's a perfect platform to support an ecosystem" of third parties, including HP, adding products to it.

"As more and more companies embrace it, my hope is we will drive the entire industry to more openness," she said.

Although Amazon Web Services has an impressive head start, Amazon "is a black box. With OpenStack, IT can say, 'We want to see into this to understand how it's working.' There's nothing that they can't see," said Dawson. There's no comparable way to see into the AWS cloud.

Dawson joins HP from major roles in two small companies, Symform, which built a storage network based on unused disk space on consumers' computers disk drives, and the Hubspan B2B cloud. She previously worked for Microsoft as group product manager for the Internet Security and Acceleration Server, with an engineering team in Israel. She's even done a stint with Amazon.com, opening ecommerce offices for the retail giant in Japan, France and Canada.

Dawson knows that she's back at a large company and that the culture has changed from the do-everything mentality of Symform and Hubspan. The HP Cloud Services unit is going to "need people who have a startup mentality, who can be scrappy, know how to move quickly, do things and ask for forgiveness later because they need to be done," she said. It will also need to understand the needs of other units in the same company and how cloud fits into a larger picture, then elicit support from other units already busy with their own priorities.

"The Cloud Services team has been built to span the startup and big company point of view. That's been a very conscious decision... We all have to be do-ers," she said.

As carrier of the OpenStack flag inside HP, the cloud team will have to find the right measure of advocacy for a major open source code stack, contributions to the code combined with HP proprietary additions on top of it. For Dawson, it will come down to first establishing the need for OpenStack.

"OpenStack is vitally important to the industry ... It's too difficult for companies to integrate and share information. We have to do better around open standards, open APIs, open architecture," she said.

"Amazon is not open," she noted. "If we all continue to play on this proprietary cloud approach, I don't think we'll be doing the customers any service."

"As more and more companies embrace it, my hope is we will drive the entire industry to more openness," she said. "Goodness comes when everything is open."

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