HP Goes All In On The Cloud

CEO Leo Apotheker details the company's plans to offer data synching, security, and other services that work from the end user device to the data center.
Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision
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Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

HP is entering cloud computing from the base of its existing HP data centers around the world and will invest in its software division until it is competitive in all aspects of cloud computing, CEO Leo Apotheker said Monday.

It was an audacious turnaround from the somewhat piecemeal and halting steps that HP has taken towards the cloud in the past. Whether HP can live up to its goal, and when it will deliver key elements, are questions that can't be immediately answered.

Under questioning, Apotheker said HP will become an infrastructure-as-a-service provider -- that is, a supplier of raw compute cycles available over the Internet with storage services -- immediately. It will become a platform-as-a-service provider, where the supplier provides wizards, tools, components, and other assistance to help its customers build applications and services for its cloud, by the end of 2012.

In late January, HP said it was ready to offer infrastructure as a service from its data centers in Tulsa, Okla., and Wynyard, England.

"As for the scalability required to be a cloud provider, we've already investing a lot. We already have data centers available today" being used by HP customers, including some known providers of cloud services. "From a big investment point of view, quite a bit of it is already on the books," said Apotheker in a press conference in San Francisco Monday, when challenged on HP's Johnny-come-lately to the cloud status.

Cloud operations are large-scale build-outs of x86 server architectures. "HP is the world's largest provider of PCs of any type. The same is true for printers -- of any type. From that point of view, we have a possibility of scale unmatched in the industry," Apotheker added. HP shipped 64 million desktops, laptops, and netbooks in 2010.

At the same time he signaled that HP's WebOS operating system for mobile devices will be loaded onto all the PCs and printers that it ships in the future. The operating system can run on top of Windows, supplying mobile services.

The volume of laptops and PCs that it ships will give HP a potential WebOS user base of millions of devices within a short time. PCs that synch easily with smartphones might prove an attractive combination, particularly to business users. And an installed base of millions of devices will potentially attract developers to supply applications -- although many developers are already busy providing applications for the Apple iPad-iPhone-iPod suite or Android phones. HP announced two WebOS smartphones and the TouchPad tablet computer running WebOS on Feb. 9. The phones and TouchPad will become available by June. More WebOS devices will follow, promised Apotheker.

More than other suppliers, HP will also concentrate on secure computing "from the end user device to the data center." Not many people realize it, but HP is the "fifth largest IT security company in the world," Apotheker said.

Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

It will seek to provide enterprise-oriented service level agreements more in line with what businesses expect, although Apotheker didn't specify any provisions. The typical Amazon Web Services SLA contains reimbursement for any time lost due to an outage in the form of credits toward future use. But it doesn't offer penalties paid by Amazon or reimbursement for lost business in case of any outage.

And it will expand its software product set so that users of HP public cloud computing will be able to coordinate those workloads with their virtualized enterprise data centers, or private clouds. At one point Apotheker referred to public and private clouds, then appeared to correct himself, saying HP was trying to enable "the hybrid cloud," or combined operation of the two. At another point, he said, "the foundation for enterprise cloud computing is the hybrid data center" and "hybrid capability requires deep cloud expertise."

That's one of the capabilities that HP may be in a position to deliver on before some other cloud suppliers. It has one of largest customer bases for systems management, starting with its OpenView network management system users. It's added application response testing and data center management products to the portfolio through recent acquisitions. HP bought Peregrin in 2005 and Mercury Interactive and Opsware in 2007 for what it called its Automated Operations suite. It will seek to combine what it knows about the data center with what still needs to be done to make cloud operations a reality.

In response to a question about how HP services compared to IBM's, the new CEO (in his fifth month at HP) added that his firm has all the services needed to help customers implement a joint data center/cloud operation. "Our enterprise services help us move customers from where they are to where they want to go," he said.

In one sense, cloud computing was a roll-up phrase, capturing several things that HP is already doing in one slogan. Apotheker seemed to acknowledge as much, when he said, "HP is trying to put the elements of what it's doing all together." In doing so, HP will expose more of its intellectual property to partners, customers, and the public.

He kept returning to the mobile operating system that HP acquired with Palm last year. "WebOS is an unbelievably attractive and stunning technology," he said at one point. With its own mobile operating system, HP was in a good position to capitalize on the "consumerization" of IT and supply consumer-style devices that fit into the enterprise, he said. Apotheker repeatedly emphasized WebOS devices' ability to discover and synchronize with each other.

In other areas, HP will continue to work with a variety of partners, as it's done in the past. Much of its cloud computing software "will come from our labs, but we can't create all this innovation ourselves," he said. HP has been a past partner of VMware, which offers a suite of cloud management software for service providers, but Apotheker did not mention VMware in his talk Monday.

HP will open an app store as part of its cloud services, but its customers might be more likely to download inventory systems or supply chain management than Beatles tunes. HP will attempt to create an ecosystem that supports its cloud with many third-party products, including other vendors' applications, he said.

"We are more than happy to partner with an ERP vendor, of which there are several, some of whom are in Germany." Apotheker is the former CEO of SAP AG in Walldorf, Germany. SEE ALSO:

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