Helion Project More Crucial to HP Recovery Than 'The Machine'

NEWS ANALYSIS: HP needs its Helion OpenStack cloud to succeed in the near term to work its way out of the financial doldrums. "The Machine" computing platform won't pay off for years.

Hewlett-Packard held press briefings on two new initiatives as the company's Discover conference drew toward a close this week.

One briefing highlighted an HP Labs project aimed at reinventing enterprise computer architecture. The other briefing highlighted how HP is going "all in" on OpenStack. The OpenStack press briefing was the more important one.

OpenStack, a community-developed, open enterprise computing stack, represents a first chance for startups anxious to sell into the enterprise and a second chance for established vendors anxious to find their footing in an era when cloud computing is becoming the central computing engine for enterprises.

Supporting OpenStack (and there are other computing stacks) puts established enterprise vendors on the right side of history and allows them to surround and fund the marketing, channel, rights and support functions required to spur enterprise sales rather than devote a substantial part of their financial resources to develop proprietary platforms.

The cloud requirements for CIOs are for hybrid deployments, nonproprietary platforms and portability of applications between platforms. Those requirements were borne out by research figures presented by HP, which noted that 72 percent of enterprise executives surveyed said open standards are critical to their company's cloud strategy.

HP's Helion project was introduced at the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta in May in the form of a free community version and an enterprise edition. The enterprise edition is priced at $1,400 per server, which Kerry Bailey, HP's senior vice president of cloud, called "very aggressive."

At the Helion introduction, HP said it will invest $1 billion over the next years. HP joined Red Hat, Oracle, Canonical and other vendors in offering up an OpenStack distribution. While you can expect a lot of discussion and dispute over which vendor's OpenStack distribution adheres most closely to the community's model, the battle for the hearts and minds of CIOs will be won by whichever vendor offers the most complete environment of service, support, funding, infrastructure options ranging from on-premises to cloud, and geographical reach.

HP included execs from AT&T and Intel, systems integrators, and Asian telecom suppliers at its Discover event that provided a visible substantiation that, at least in open enterprise software, HP got the message and is building out a robust OpenStack environment.

The second briefing, by HP Labs, centered on the oddly named computing platform "The Machine." While The Machine sounds like a menacing antagonist from a science fiction movie script, it is actually HP Labs' view of what the next era of computing will encompass. I call it a "view," as the nearest the Labs came to a prototype was a 3-D printed model.

In HP's view, the next stage of computing will be based on three components. The computing core will operate via a yet-to-be-developed open operating system. The memory will use memristor storage technology that has also yet to be deployed. The computing core and memory core will be joined by silicon photonics technology replacing copper-based networking with fiber optics.

HP CEO Meg Whitman waxed enthusiastic about The Machine in her keynote to the Discover attendees. "This is a new paradigm. HP is building a new way to compute from the ground up. This changes everything," she said. Her enthusiasm was augmented at the next day's press briefing when the HP Labs execs put up a timeline showing The Machine available in 2019.

However, turning Labs projects into products on a reliable timeline is notoriously difficult. And when those products involve technological advances throughout the entire system—in this case, operating system and hardware, memory and interconnects—the chances of making a deadline fall in dramatic fashion.

While The Machine computing platform is sure to get a lot of media attention, HP's OpenStack Helion, if the company gets the project off the ground and into the marketplace, will have a greater impact on the company's near-term plans to exit from its current financial doldrums.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.