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Why HP wants the whole cloud stack

HP’s clumsy cloud leak this week sheds a little bit more light on the printer giant’s cloud computing plans, but the details signal a much bigger trend. The major IT players feel they must own the whole cloud stack. Why?

According to The Reg story HP’s Scott McCllelan posted the following information on his public LinkedIn profile about HP’s planned offerings:

– HP “object storage” service: built from scratch, distributed sytem, designed to solve for cost, scale, and reliability without compromise.
– HP “compute”, “networking”, and “block storage”: an innovative and highly differentiated approach to “cloud computing” – a declarative/model-based approach where users provide a specification and the system automates deployment and management.
– Common/shared services: user management, key management, identity management & federation, authentication (inclu. multi-factor), authorization, and auditing (AAA), billing/metering, alerting/logging, analysis.
– Website and User/Developer Experience. Future HP “cloud” website including the public content and authenticated user content. APIs and language bindings for Java, Ruby, and other open source languages. Fully functional GUI and CLI (both Linux/Unix and Windows).
– Quality assurance, code/design inspection processes, security and penetration testing.

The “object storage” service would be akin to Amazon S3 and the “block storage” service smells like Amazon’s EBS; the automatic deployment piece sounds like Amazon CloudFormation which provides templates of AWS resources to make it easier to deploy an application. And metering, billing, alerting, authorization etc. are all part of a standard cloud compute service. How you make a commodity service “highly differentiated” is a mystery to me and if you do, who’s going to want that? But that’s another story.

The Platform as a Service part for developers is interesting, although not a surprise since HP already said it would support a variety of languages including open source ones. And the security elements tick the box for enterprise IT customers rightly worried about the whole concept of sharing resources.

These details are enough to confirm that HP is genuinely building out an Amazon Web Services-like cloud for the enterprise. So why does it need to own every part of the stack? HP has traditionally been the “arms dealer” to everyone, selling the software, the hardware and the integration services to pull it all together, so why not do the same with cloud? Sell the technology to anyone and everyone that wants to build a cloud? They’re would be no conflict of interest with service providers to whom it is also selling gear, and no commodity price wars for Infrastructure as a Service. (Believe me they are coming!)

Apparently HP believes it has no choice and other IT vendors seem to believe the same thing. The reason is integration. Cloud services, thanks to AWS’s example, are so easy to consume because all the parts are so tightly integrated together. But to offer that, the provider has to have control of the whole stack — the hardware, the networking and the full software stack — to ensure a smooth experience for the user.

If you don’t, as others have proven, your cloud might never materialize. VMware began its cloud strategy by partnering, first with to create VMforce, then with Google, creating Google App Engine (GAE) for Business which runs VMware’s SpringSource apps. Then acquired Heroku and started doing its own thing no doubt leaving VMware with a deep loss of control. Both the arrangement with Salesforce and GAE have gone nowhere in over a year and VMware has since launched its own PaaS called CloudFoundry.

Similarly, IBM built its own test and dev service and now public cloud compute service from scratch. It’s also working on a PaaS offering although there’s still no word on this. Microsoft sells Azure as a service and is also supposedly packaging it up to resell through partners (Dell, HP, and Fujitsu) for companies that want to build private clouds. The latter is over a year late, while Azure has been up and running for a year.

In other words, whenever these companies bring a partner into the mix and try to jointly sell cloud, it goes nowhere fast and they revert to doing it on their own.

The benefit of being late to the game, as HP certainly is, means it gets to learn from everyone else’s mistakes. Cloud-based block storage needs better redundancy, for example! Or, don’t waste your time partnering with Google or Salesforce.

There’s also a theory that to be able to sell a cloud offering, you have to have run a cloud yourself, which makes some sense. So if the past is any help, and there isn’t much of it in cloud yet, HP is on the right path building the whole cloud stack.

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