Global CIO: HP's Apotheker Focuses On Cloud, Not Consumers

Public cloud storage, compute, and platform services are on tap starting later this year. So is a tablet, but HP's chief spent little time on that.
As Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker laid out his vision for HP today, in his first major public comments since being named CEO in September, he put a major focus on cloud computing, mobility, and analytics. In all, Apotheker's comments should reassure any CIO who might have thought HP would neglect its enterprise IT roots in pursuit of the booming consumer IT market.

If anything, Apotheker’s remarks left me wondering if HP is worried enough about the consumer market.

In touting cloud opportunities, Apotheker and the executives who followed him repeatedly emphasized HP would offer cloud services and computing devices that serve business and consumer needs at the same time--bridging the reality that business people want the same devices for work and pleasure. "And if there is a better answer than enterprise-supported solutions, they will use it," he said.

Apotheker laid out his priorities in three main areas: cloud, connectivity, and software to connect the cloud and devices. Here are some highlights:

* HP will launch a public cloud storage service in late 2011, adding compute and platform services in early 2012. "HP plans to build and run an HP cloud," Apotheker said. HP already offers cloud infrastructure services to its enterprise customers, but not the general-purpose services like those offered by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others.

* HP will launch a consumer app store and a cloud-based enterprise application and service catalog. "We'll only vet applications for security and interoperability to facilitate an environment that's both trusted and open," said Apotheker, in a clear contrast to the closely patrolled Apple app store. Businesses will increasingly look for ways to deliver software--to customers or their own employees--that mimic the ease of use and management simplicity of the app store, so again, this platform could be valuable to IT organizations.

* Apotheker thinks most companies will get to the cloud with hybrid architectures, and that model is what businesses will use for a "long, long time." Hybrid environments generally mean companies will build a private cloud architecture running their own data centers while also tapping public cloud services for some computing. Moving to hybrid models is a big opportunity for HP's services business, since companies will need help rewriting their apps and changing their operations to take advantage of more flexible cloud architectures.

* Given the chance to tout HP's forthcoming tablet as a cloud-connect device, Apotheker passed, except for a glancing mention. Instead, he defended the PC, bragging about how HP ships two PCs--as well as two printers--a second. "The fact is, people like working on PCs, and that isn't going away," Apotheker said. "People like and need to print."

That statement reflects a theme Apotheker hit often HP will "optimize traditional technologies" and grow its core business as it helps companies move to the cloud. He also reiterated that HP would be adding its Palm WebOS to its devices, and that HP had the possibility of shipping more than 100 million WebOS devices a year, between its printers, smartphones, tablets, and printers. Apotheker left the gee-whiz tablet feature demos to other executives later in the day.

* Apotheker described HP's software strategy as bringing together cloud services and connected devices. He emphasized data analytics, an area HP isn't known for but recently made a splash in with its deal to acquire Vertica. Apotheker tried to paint HP’s lack of market share in analytics as a positive: "I think it is to our advantage that we don't have a legacy [software base] to protect,” he said. He promised to offer full rack, half-rack, and one-quarter-rack server appliances using Vertica very quickly after the deal closes in the second quarter. He also said HP doesn't need to buy a big transactional software company, tamping down any speculation it's after an ERP vendor.

HP does have a good deal of software relevant to cloud operations, for functions such as management, security, and application development and testing. But for a CEO coming from SAP, one of the world's largest business application companies, Apotheker's vision for HP's software seemed the least compelling and complete of those he laid out.

Apotheker's vision also won't light the fire of would be-consumer IT buyers. Apotheker didn't fail here--he didn't try, surely a conscious choice. Instead, Apotheker spoke clearly to the enterprise IT market, to CIOs. He talked about IT as the "fabric of global society," but his focus fell far more on the hybrid clouds that CIOs would build to deliver that IT than how people in the world would use that computing power.

Is that vision enough for HP, a market where so much innovation is being driven by consumer IT? Surely not. But it’s a start.

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