With the field of nominees for the next US presidential election starting to fill out, it's interesting how closely HP is mirroring this process. It doesn't matter which political party you ascribe to, the process is similar. Potential candidates decide to run and announce their intent, but each nominee generally falls along party lines in both belief and judgement. Its then up to the voters to determine which candidate wins the nomination and this is usually based on one or two distinct differences.
At HP Discover last week, the company focused on its Cloud offerings, but its messaging was suspiciously familiar. I've attended several conferences already this year, and I swear I could take keynote speakers from each of those events and replace those HP chose to deliver its missive, and the message would be almost exactly the same. Just like there are different political parties – the two strong contenders of Democrats and Republicans, and a few minor parties like Independents, Libertarians, and a few others – the Cloud has 3 distinct camps right now: Public, Private, and Hybrid.
In the beginning of the "all in" Cloud march, the nominees were solely focused on Public Cloud. But, over time, customers have had a hand in evolving the Cloud message and the Cloud experience. Hybrid Cloud is the result of customers saying "No" to the Public Cloud and then vendors readdressing the message and the technologies. Customers voted with their dollars and their reluctance to put complete trust in a Cloud that confined data outside their control in a remote datacenter owned and operated by someone else. Due to security and privacy concerns, regulatory issues, and publicly reported availability problems the Hybrid Cloud party was born.
Microsoft, of course, has been putting its eggs in the Hybrid Cloud basket for the longest of any vendor, and it has a clear advantage against the likes of AWS and Google because the software company started with deep ties to the local datacenter. AWS and Google are only just starting their Hybrid Cloud message, seemingly switching parties between Public and Hybrid mid-stream to win new customers and better compete against a Microsoft that has altered its game plan with a new CEO and is steadily becoming more relevant in the magic quadrant circles. And, just like the political party system, where voters choose a candidate from the field of nominees, it will boil down to the differences that make one Hybrid Cloud provider more pleasing than the others.
But, what does HP Enterprise bring to the field? The company has to have a clear advantage, otherwise it will get lost in the pitch.
First, let's look at the messaging that's clearly the same…
Hybrid Cloud – HP is putting its focus directly in the Hybrid camp, hoping to lure customers into choosing its service for a number of reasons: security, interoperability, privacy, experience, and others.
Private Cloud emphasis – During a post-keynote Q&A, HP officials told the story of being the largest provider of Private Cloud, but unfortunately, was reluctant to provide details. Additionally, when asked who its closest competitor is, the only name the panel could come up with was Oracle. That, right there, is a politically induced statement, showing the company is being extremely careful not to hinder partnerships with Azure and AWS. P.S. I overheard a conversation between analysts last week, suggesting that last year, 80% of HP's Cloud business came from 2,000 customers, but this year, that same 80% is only 500 customers.
Security – During a press tour of the Discover Zone in the HP-centric pavilion, a lot of attention was garnered toward HP's security efforts. In addition to the software the company has developed to protect customer data, we were shown the "Bad Guy Zone," a booth made up to look like a basement full of hackers. We were shown how HP has a group of vigilant employees that monitor security hotbeds similar to Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit. HP recently acquired Voltage Security to incorporate with its own HP Atalla product to bolster its security designs.
DevOps – HP Discover was thick with DevOps focus in an effort to capture those companies wanting to realign and transform their IT services through lifecycle automation. DevOps is in its infancy in most companies, but HP, along with other vendors, are attempting to show that the way forward is through automating tasks.
Cloud OS – HP Helion CloudSystem 9.0 released last week with much fanfare. With this version, HP has taken careful consideration to bring interoperability into its camp.
Interoperability – Working with other Clouds and other systems is a common thread these days. CloudSystem 9.0 brings simultaneous support for AWS, Microsoft Azure, HP Helion Public Cloud, OpenStack technology and VMware, but also for multiple hypervisors including Microsoft Hyper-V, Red Hat KVM, VMware vSphere, as well as bare metal deployments.
Cloud API – To ensure interoperability thrives, HP introduced its own set of APIs to allow partners and customers to develop connections with Private Clouds, Hybrid Clouds, Public Cloud, and existing systems. One of HP's strong messages last week was that it intends to make your private datacenters work just like AWS, except customers won't need AWS to do it, just HP Helion Eucalyptus. Additionally, HP introduced the HP Composable Infrastructure API and a new partner program to go along with it. Partners include Chef Software, Docker, Puppet Labs, Ansible, and VMware and the intent is to treat hardware infrastructure as code. Composable API is HP's Cloud orchestration software.
Open Systems – HP continues to invest in OpenStack and develop its services around the open model. This gives the company the opportunity to show customers that it's willing to work with any system and any environment.
Big Data – Just like every other Cloud provider today, HP is intent on developing a business around storing and filtering Big Data with its HP Haven and HP Haven on Hadoop platform.
Public datacenter expansion – HP's Public Cloud datacenters exist worldwide, but are few in number. As others such as Microsoft and Amazon continue adding new datacenters almost monthly, HP is getting outpaced. The company made a promise during Discover that it will begin investing and building new datacenters over the next couple years to align better with country and regulatory restrictions for storing data.
Company realignment – Despite the number of product and service announcements at HP Discover, that news was overrun by the upcoming company split. There was a big focus on how the split will affect the company, but more importantly how it will affect HP's customers. HP, Inc. will focus on the consumer market with PCs and printers, while HP Enterprise will focus entirely on building the Cloud business. It was interesting to note the differences between HP Discover 2014 and HP Discover 2015. Last year, each business segment introduced its own strategy during, making the messaging muddled and confusing, and making the company look like multiple companies all fighting each other for market dominance. This year was different. HP provided a unified vision, with each of its areas showing support for the others. The new effort was refreshing and showed that even large companies can change given the right direction and actions.
As you can see, HP's messaging and actions follow a very similar path as most in the Hybrid Cloud party today. But, what's different? What makes HP unique enough to become the frontrunner?
It's definitely not the new logo. HP unveiled a revised logo for HP Enterprise last week. It's a combination of old fonts from a previous logo and a blank, green rectangle.
It's definitely not the invention of new marketing buzzwords like Hyper-Converged and Composable services, with Composable. No, HP's strong suit, and the piece that could allow it to eventually become a solid candidate, is its hardware business. Unfortunately, with the company split and the announcement of new efforts in the Hybrid Cloud, its hardware business seemed to take the backseat. But, think about it. If the messaging is clearly the same across all the nominees, hardware is the differentiator that will define the company. AWS, Azure, even Google, have strong Cloud messages, but without a hardware offering they still need to rely on others, like HP, to complete the picture. Even the much ballyhooed Moonshot server didn't get much attention this year, only shown in the HP Labs area of the Comdex.
I attended DellWorld a couple years ago when Dell delivered a grand scheme to take a strong hardware business and begin to build its own Cloud message. The scheme was good and at the time I considered how easy it could be for a solid hardware vendor to make a strong Cloud run if it could just get the software piece right. But, like many weak politicians announcing a run for candidacy, Dell's vision fizzled after just weeks of stumping.
HP has a real opportunity here. The party line hinges on the following four tenants:
Transform to a hybrid infrastructure
Protect your digital enterprise
Enable workplace productivity
Empower the data-driven organization
Throw in hardware that can more than adequately run the Cloud and HP could make a solid run, potentially becoming the frontrunner in the campaign to win customer Cloud votes.
I learned from 1:1 discussions with HP execs that its evolution is designed to be a slow one. The distractions of the company split and realigning focus will take some time. HP Enterprise's roadmap to Cloud-centric is relatively short, but there's enough wiggle-room to make adjustments along the way and the company wants to do it right. HP Enterprise believes it has a strong message but it will take concentrated stumping to ensure customers are informed and aware.
I joked last week that I was severely undressed in a nice shirt and jeans. If you wanted to find an HP person, you only had to look for the sea of suit jackets. They hung together in packs. HP stated more than a few times that it wants to promote a youthful, transformative, agile, and exciting appearance to associate with the new generation of IT. For HP to accomplish this, it still has a way to go and it doesn't culminate with a simple logo change. Taking off the suit jacket to be more approachable would be a great start.
HP Discover 2016 in the US has not yet been announced, though there's still an event in London yet to kick off in December and a placeholder on Clocate.com for the US event to be back in Vegas next year. There were definite rumors that this year's event would be HP's last due to the company split, but during the second keynote of the week CEO, Meg Whitman, eluded that HP Enterprise would be taking over the event completely and that it would continue. I sincerely hope so, as the field of Hybrid Cloud nominees is still wide open and I'd love to hear if HP can put together a good run.