HP CloudSystem: What exactly is it?

Can HP really compete in the cloud market? Find out if it has the chops in this breakdown of the company’s private cloud product.

HP claims to have put private cloud, hybrid cloud and possibly public cloud in its pocket to sell to enterprises and service providers. But CloudSystem, as it is known, isn't so much a platform as a collection of intersecting HP products and roadmaps to get cloud capabilities -- elastic, self-service provisioning, storage and metered use -- into your data center.

At heart, it's the Cloud Service Automation software that makes or breaks the HP cloud.

There's CloudSystem Matrix, CloudSystem Enterprise, CloudStart Solution, Cloud Service Automation, Cloud Service Delivery, CloudMaps, Cloud Matrix Operating Environment, CloudSystem Security, CloudAgile, and on and on. HP suddenly has a lot of stuff stamped "cloud." What's more, there's no shrink-wrap; you pick bits here and there, and HP helps you install and tune it. Fortunately, there's at least one example in the wild to see what actually constitutes an "HP cloud."

"Yes, they do have an awful lot to look at," said Christian Teeft, VP of engineering for data center operator and services provider Latisys. Teeft said Latisys may well have the first live CloudSystem environment at an HP customer. Latisys is using the system to sell cloud infrastructure services, which come in "private" and "semi-private" options; dedicated clouds for customers, as it were.

Teeft said Latisys deliberately leaned away from startups and smaller cloud platform vendors, talking to enterprise vendors and other service providers like NewScale, Joyent, BMC and others about automation, but HP had the country club marquee customers and Teeft liked the integration with HP's hardware.

"There are synergies with HP around hardware blade systems and ISS," he said.

Industry Standard Server Technology Communications (ISS technology communications) is HP's way of distributing technology guides and techniques to users, a bit like Microsoft's TechNet.

Teeft said cloud computing for enterprise customers was becoming a fairly mainstream request, although actual usage might be exploratory or limited to certain workloads, all new customers wanted to see the capability available.

"It's a checkmark on a lot of RFPs and RFIs these days," he said.

HP also touts the ability of CloudSystem to use external public cloud services. Teeft said he was aware of the ability to do hybrid clouds but that wasn't relevant to him. Latisys' cloud is unequivocally staying high and dry from melding with other services.

"Our workload is going to stay within our four walls for now," he said.

Teeft said CloudSystem had two other key advantages for a service provider. It is hypervisor agnostic, meaning they can serve more than just VMware users, and unlike cloud-in-a-box solutions like the vBlock or Oracle's Exalogic or Cisco's UCS, it can run off a small hardware allotment at first.

"It allowed us to do a unique scale… we didn't have to sink a few million dollars into a vBlock or whatever," he said.

So what exactly is CloudSystem?
The central component of CloudSystem is the Cloud Service Automation software, which is based on Opsware. HP is selling three core components: HP Converged Infrastructure (running something called the Matrix Operating Environment), Cloud Service Automation (CSA) and HP's own support services to keep it running.

The Matrix OE is HP Insight, basically, and handles low-level provisioning, monitoring and management for physical and virtual resources. It also helps with network management by hooking into HP Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager (VCEM). Cloud Service Automation is mostly Opsware, which HP acquired in 2007. That provides everything else needed to turn your infrastructure into a cloud -- the user interfaces (and user management), provisioning tools, configuration and workflow tools, and management/monitoring displays -- a front-end resource manager and orchestration tool. It can tap into HP's own Infrastructure as a Service offerings when those come online and with other public cloud services like Amazon Web Services, according to the literature.

HP says that HP blades and 3PAR storage are the hardware component for CloudSystem, but say most x86-based servers and SAN storage can work with the Cloud Service Automation software.

"They also sell that separately, so you can just buy the software solution and put it on your hardware," said Forrester analyst Lauren Nelson, who has spoken to a handful of CloudSystem early adopters.

Nelson said that the CSA cloud platform provides all the necessary components to turn a bunch of servers into something comparable to Amazon Web Services or Rackspace Cloud. The user interface isn't polished, according to Nelson, but the functionality is there; it is on par with products like Eucalyptus, Abiquo and Cloud.com.

"With Abiquo, you can change the color of the interface background, I think," said Nelson.

The reason HP is selling the software separately instead of an exclusive hardware/software bundle is that it wants to please all sides: providers like Latisys, and also the customers who are on the fence about running their own infrastructure or outsourcing. There's a strong impulse in enterprises to do something in the way of private cloud this year, said Nelson, but users want to start small if they possibly can.

HP suddenly has a lot of stuff stamped "cloud."

"If your infrastructure is really behind, you're going to be looking at a hardware/software solution or hosted private cloud," she said. "If you're not quite as worried about the hardware, you might be looking at just the software this year."

HP has a number of additional software enhancements for the base platform, like Tipping Point, which gives some network security, intrusion detection and traffic management features. CloudMaps are templates for the platform based on common enterprise application stacks, HP ArcSight can be used for compliance, HP Storage Essentials and so on. Aggregation Platform for SaaS (AP4SaaS) has billing and templates for Software as a Service providers baked in. All of these are sideshows to the Cloud Service Automation software.

IT giants compete for cloud dominance
Nelson said that, right now, only HP and IBM have a complete package to offer enterprises around private cloud, meaning fully integrated hardware and software to run and support it. Dell's partnerships with Joyent and Microsoft (Hyper-V Fast Track) and its own Virtual Infrastructure System (VIS) weren't at the same level, and the pure-play cloud platforms require a lot of work to tune for various kinds of infrastructure. They are also a riskier bet, as the companies have an uncertain future.

HP has put up a big tent for its private cloud products and piled it full of bric-a-brac. At heart, however, it's the Cloud Service Automation software that makes or breaks the HP cloud. Experimenting with and adopting cloud products in house is quickly becoming a reality for many enterprises, and the big vendors are clearly trying to step up to the plate. But if nothing else, this is yet another way to show that cloud computing is not just more of the same old data center operations.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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