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HPE hybrid cloud poised for coopetition with AWS, Microsoft

HPE's newest offerings improve its chances in the hybrid cloud market, but may draw fire from its cloud partners, AWS and Microsoft.

When you pray for rain, you have to deal with the mud, too.

With its basket of hybrid cloud offerings this week, HPE has laid the foundation for a new coopetition among its longtime cloud partners AWS, Microsoft and Google.

Once head-to-head competitors with the three major cloud providers, the new HPE hybrid cloud lineup leverages all three of those vendors' platforms. But it figures to face stiff competition with them -- most notably AWS's Outposts and Microsoft's Azure Stack.

"People still adopt public clouds, so we want to embrace them through partners using GreenLake," said Lauren Whitehouse, HPE's director of software-defined and cloud group marketing. "Users still need to run things on-prem, which is why AWS came out with Outposts and Microsoft with Azure Stack," she said.

The level of coopetition with AWS and Microsoft figures to intensify given HPE's renewed focus on services, along with moving up the stack from infrastructure products and into the systems management space, said Tim Crawford, an IT consultant and CIO advisor with AVOA.

"There is some overlap, which will grow as AWS and Microsoft reach further into the data center," Crawford said. "I would exclude Google because I see Anthos as a totally different model than Outposts and Azure Stack."

HPE hybrid cloud ties on to Google

In April, HPE struck a partnership deal with Google Cloud to develop hybrid cloud platforms by merging Google Cloud Anthos with HPE's SimpliVity hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) platform. The hope is the resulting platforms will create a smoother experience across public clouds and on-premises environments.

Anthos is the software platform Google rolled out in April at Cloud Next. It's based on Kubernetes and is geared toward running containerized workloads on any platform -- whether on public cloud, such as Google and AWS, or in customers' on-premises environments.

For the latter scenario, Anthos relies on customers' having a baseline VMware implementation. It's also quite expensive and thus geared for large enterprises. However, Google has deliberately used Anthos to position itself as a Switzerland-style player in the cloud going forward, and thus is a natural partner in alignment with HPE's current plans.

The company will employ GreenLake to deliver on-premises IaaS that will allow users to run applications in the Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) on-premises while keeping the same container-based design within a hybrid cloud infrastructure.

The new HPE hybrid cloud path

Google is taking a different approach to hybrid clouds than Azure Stack and Outposts, Whitehouse said, but it is one HPE believes offers the company new opportunities.

"Google wants to proliferate containers and we can help orchestrate that with GKE on-premises," Whitehouse said. "They really like the HCI model, so we were picked as a partner to run Anthos on SimpliVity," she said.

HPE is banking on users needing to work across clouds including VMware and AWS's hybrid clouds.
Dana GardnerPrincipal analyst, Interarbor Solutions

Containers allows users to package things in a way that enables a more open approach and gives users more choices, which fits hand in glove with the HPE hybrid cloud approach, according to Whitehouse.

"What HPE is banking on is if users need to work across clouds they will have to use VMware and AWS's hybrid clouds and likely Google's as well," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions, LLC in Gilford, NH. "People want multi-clouds so they can hedge their bets with a diversified portfolio. For HPE it is all about heterogeneity now."

Avoiding foggy conditions

HPE will need a cohesive story to present to users as it competes with AWS and Microsoft, Crawford said. There could be some confusion among users about what tools they should use, particularly when it comes to extending their cloud environments out to the edge.

"Azure, Azure Stack and Outposts already have tools that go all the way out to the edge," Crawford said. "HPE will have to work really hard to get that story right because if they don't they will end up really challenged."

With the latest offering, HPE's reinvention is still a work in progress. Hewlett-Packard, Inc. exited the public cloud business four years ago -- just before the company split itself in two forming HPE and HP, Inc. -- ceding the market to AWS and Microsoft. The company retired its HP Helion Public Cloud in January 2016 after it failed to gain much market share. A similar fate befell Cisco's Intercloud.

HPE is not alone in the if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them approach. Cisco, for one, has taken a similar tactic. But HPE believes there is enough money and customer demand in the multi-cloud pot to serve multiple winners.

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