HP Cautious About How It Approaches Cloud Services, Infrastructure

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-02-11

HP Cautious About How It Approaches Cloud Services, Infrastructure

SAN FRANCISCO-One day after IBM established its cloud computing development and marketing strategy by instituting a new division and spotlighting a key networking partnership, longtime nemesis Hewlett-Packard made darn sure that it got some face time to explain its stance on this important new market.

HP told a group of journalists and analysts here Feb. 10 that the cloud computing structure is certainly viable and an important trend heading into the second decade of the new century. But it also indicated that there's still a lot of work to do to make these systems work dependably and securely-much more than is apparent from media coverage.

"See this diagram?" said HP CTO and Vice President of Cloud Services Strategy Russ Daniels, as he drew a series of overlapping circles on the chalkboard. "These are systems that overlap but don't fundamentally work well together. They're all from different companies [and] time frames and being run in different levels of quality. This is the way the world works now."

Drawing a series of circles, each inside the next, resembling a target, he continued, "Now see this one; here is where we want to go at HP. We want to line up all these systems according to open standards and best practices. This is the way we will get to ubiquitous computing, on-demand and dependable, for whatever business needs we have," Daniels said.

HP has shied away from the generalized term "cloud computing" since it began being used regularly in fall 2006, when Amazon.com instituted its cloud services.

"There's a reason we haven't been referring to the term 'cloud computing' all that much [in the past]," an HP marketing executive said. "We've been calling this 'adaptive infrastructure' all this time, because that's what our clients understand. 'Cloud computing' is still an unclear concept to many people, and it's still in evolution. We are at the forefront of this, but we are also realistic about how it's going to be implemented."

For the record, cloud computing, also called utility computing, serves up computing power, data storage or applications from one data center location over a grid to thousands or millions of users on a subscription basis. This general kind of cloud-for example, services provided online such as Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), Google Apps and Salesforce.com-is known as a "public" cloud, because any business or individual can subscribe.

Systems like this that exist inside a firewall are called private clouds. Both IBM and HP are working on software and services that will connect these types of systems to work seamlessly in getting business done via the Internet.

Daniels, the former CTO of HP's software division, is the one running HP's cloud systems development; IBM has the newly appointed Erich Clementi in the same capacity, with Kristof Kloeckner as the new CTO. Clementi reports directly to CEO Sam Palmisano, while Daniels reports to HP CTO Shane Robison.

This very high-level corporate attention is a key indicator of how vital this market is, and is going to become, to these two companies and to the worldwide IT industry.

"For IBM to create another division specifically aimed at anything-hey, now that's a big deal," one analyst told eWEEK. "This company doesn't do that every day."

Nor does HP.

Does IBM or HP Lead in Cloud Computing?

So which of these two IT giants looks like it's further ahead in the cloud computing space at this point?

This is not a simple question to answer, because both companies have long had point products and services that can contribute to building a legitimate cloud system. Only recently have they set up the corporate means to concentrate on finding those resources and delivering them to customers.

It is also safe to say that neither company has very many customers actually buying systems now to build cloud computing-type data centers, thanks to the effect the world economic downturn is having on most IT at the moment.

The more relevant question might be, not which one is further advanced, but how they differ in their approaches to providing goods and services in this genre.

At the moment, it looks like this:

- IBM has a series of nine data centers in strategic locations around the world that are ready and able to provide on-demand cloud applications (financial, scientific and others) for users in short order. It does not have a raft of IT infrastructure-type services like Amazon EC2 or Google Apps currently available, although its Tivoli tools division is working on that kind of delivery.

- HP doesn't appear to have all the networking for these cloud services ready for prime time just yet. It seems to be moving a bit more slowly, asking more tactical questions about how this is all going to play out. Nonetheless, like IBM, it has all the hardware, software and services available now to start a capital investment of this type.

In fact, HP has come to the cloud computing trend through positioning itself as a "one-stop shop" for data center design, construction and implementation.

In summary, the race is on. And between not just IBM and HP, but also Sun Microsystems, Dell, Symantec, EMC and a host of specialized companies that also want in on the action.

Which road map will work best?

Of HP and IBM, do either of them have the right road map? That will be what sets them apart in the marketplace for potential customers to evaluate.

"What surprises me the most about all this is how aggressively both of these companies are moving ahead in an area that really is not fully defined or worked out," virtualization and cloud systems analyst Bernard Golden, CEO of the HyperStratus consultancy, told eWEEK.

"IBM's looking at the cloud like, 'Here's a set of over-arching technologies that will do this [supply the cloud structure],' and they're looking at what it's going to take to have applications that will do that [provide the on-demand services for business]," Golden said. "[While] HP was focusing on issues around applications and making them very scalable, IBM was showing how they have Tivoli [and the Juniper connectivity] already wired to distribute these workloads.

"The question does remain: What profile of workloads? They showed a sort of 'potted' demo, and you have to understand what those apps are doing, and how they're architected. For a certain class of workloads, it looks like they have it wired in. But who really knows?"

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify the chain of command at HP.

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