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With the foundation laid, can HP's cloud house stand?

HP has invested heavily in a variety of platforms -- like the newly released HP Helion VPC -- to become a force in cloud computing. Ultimately, it may need a game-changing technology to win love in this hardscrabble market.

HP has found new energy in its efforts to be a top-tier player in the cloud business over the past few months with the addition of its Helion platform, a passel of exploitive apps, a handful of veteran executives and $1 billion in cloud development investments over the next two years.

These redoubled efforts, however, merely represent a start. The hard work of creating a game-changing technology and a message that distinguishes it from competitors including IBM, Google and Microsoft lies ahead.

Helion has forced them to pull together a single inclusive effort and to lay out a more consistent message.
Ed Andersonanalyst with Gartner

"They still have work to do from a technology perspective," said Ed Anderson, an analyst with Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Connecticut. "Helion is still based on OpenStack, which has a limited feature set. Their worldwide presence is pretty low relative to their data center footprint and their market execution is in the early stages. They haven't quite found their legs yet."

HP has been criticized recently for a fragmented cloud strategy. The company used to have one group working on private clouds, the server and software teams doing management and the enterprise services people doing their jobs, according to Anderson.  But the arrival of HP Helion earlier this year changed that.

"Helion has forced them to pull together a single inclusive effort and to lay out a more consistent message," Anderson said.

While HP is betting heavily on Helion, the company is also trying to strengthen its relationships with long-time partners Microsoft and VMware. Some IT pros think these relationships could prove vital to the company’s success, but others see it as HP leaving its options open.

For instance, the latter feels more comfortable with IBM's long-term approach because it offers a one-stop shop for the components they need for a fully integrated cloud platform. And while IBM hasn't optimized all of its server-based applications and tools for its SoftLayer cloud platform, they seem willing to wait.

"IBM is building a franchise with SoftLayer as the foundation and will build everything on top," said a systems administrator with a St. Paul, Minnesota-based manufacturing company. "HP's approach, to me, seems a bit more scattered. They have OpenStack and their own management software and tools, but I think they are hedging their bets in supporting other platforms as well."

But HP is justified in spreading its technology commitments to other platforms, given the heterogeneous environments corporate IT must live in today.

"HP is preparing itself to see what direction the market goes in," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with InterArbor Solutions, LLC, in Gilford, New Hampshire. "If it goes [to] OpenStack, it is prepared. If it goes in a big data or Hadoop direction, they are ready. If containers take off, then the fact they don't dominate in the hypervisor field doesn't look like such a bad bet."

Edwin Miller, founder and CEO of 9Lenses, a supplier of a SaaS-based survey and business intelligence tool in Sterling, Virginia, chose HP Helion and OpenStack because of the company's worldwide network of data centers. The company expects to have OpenStack public cloud services running in a couple dozen of its 80 data centers around the world over the next 18 months.

"We wanted to avoid some of the typical delivery limitations when trying to scale to secure mass enterprise use," Miller said. "What we don’t want is a 14-second lag time in communicating among offices around the world."

HP Helion VPC gets lean

HP hopes to broaden the potential market for its cloud services by going after users who don't need industrial-strength versions of its products. This week, the company unveiled a lower-cost HP Cloud infrastructure as a service offering, Helion Managed Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) Lean. It features improved performance of lighter workloads for tasks such as application development and testing, and supports various collaborative tasks.

HP expected customers to first move smaller workloads -- including those for human resources -- to the cloud, followed by the heavier back end applications such as SAP or Oracle. But, just the opposite proved to be true.

"A lot of what we crafted so far [with VPC] was targeted toward ERP and CRM systems carrying heavier workloads," said Jeff Moyer, HP's senior director of data center and cloud services. "But as we worked with clients, it was obvious we needed lightweight [platforms] to run their applications that don’t need the full solution."

To create the lightweight version, HP took out the amount of storage backup available to users of the heavier version of VPC, as well as some of the more comprehensive monitoring services.

"Some of the lighter apps don't need 90 days of online virtual tape backup, or the monitoring services for customers with a lower [service level agreement] that don’t need four or five nines of uptime," Moyer said.

With VPC Lean, users gain faster operating system and application certification for the cloud. The company’s Account Support provides enterprise-class services such as SAP HANA Management Service and database as a service, as well as compute clustering and virtualization, according to company officials.

Helion VPC Lean pricing starts at $168 per month for small virtual server configurations, although a pilot trial service is also now available for IT pros who want to certify an application for the cloud.

Standard enterprise VPC pricing is $283 per month, however this does not take into account volume pricing discounts that are determined by each client's workload needs. The VPC Lean offering is also subject to this volume discount as well, by itself or with a combination of VPC solutions.

About the author:
Ed Scannell is senior executive editor for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. He can be reached at

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Are you optimistic about HP’s cloud future?
Full disclosure: we are an HP Cloud customer

We selected HP cloud because of the OpenStack focus. We are foremost optimistic about OpenStack and the innovation it will enable, and HP Cloud offers a good OpenStack experience. 
You might be interested in this related take on OpenStack's future (likely to integrate more with the big vendors):
Combining public cloud services with their own internal IT resources to create Hybrid Clouds EC2 coming to an end and the Ecosystem is the future
I guess I am focusing on different aspects of the stack so I come to a different interpretation. Because of OpenStack, IaaS is now completely commoditized, and thus there is no value add in the cloud controller. However, IaaS does not a cloud application make: so the value-add is now up the stack and the first layer you hit is PaaS. The forces on applications demand scalability and efficiency, and virtualization is not a good vehicle to deliver that. By the virtue of an open source stack like OpenStack, the community can now innovate around efficiency optimizations that they never could with VMware and Hyper-V. So VMware and Hyper-V are being marginalized because they didn't serve the people that are moving the needle forward on what customers really need and that is scalable, efficient cloud applications.
Well, HP is obviously following the market rather than making the market and therein lies the problem. They are not innovating or inventing anything that will drive customers to their cloud services. HP has years to figure out how to play in the cloud and yet it seems like they are once again trying to orchestrate their cloud services under a new name.