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HP Sets Launch of Public Cloud Service

More than a year after promising to offer a public cloud service, Hewlett-Packard today is officially jumping into the fray.

After an eight-month beta test period, the company said its new HP Cloud Services, a portfolio of public cloud infrastructure offerings that includes compute, object storage, block storage, relational database (initially MySQL) and identity services, will be available May 10. As anticipated, HP Cloud Services will come with tools for Ruby, Java, Python and PHP developers. While there is no shortage of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud offerings, HP's entrée is noteworthy because it is one of the leading providers of computing infrastructure.

The IT industry is closely watching how HP will transform itself under its new CEO Meg Whitman, and the cloud promises to play a key role in shaping the company's fortunes. As other key IT players such as Dell, IBM and Microsoft also offer public cloud services, critics have pointed to HP's absence. The rise of non-traditional competitors such as Amazon Web Services and Rackspace in recent years has also put pressure on HP, whose servers, storage and networking gear will become more dispensable by its traditional customer base as it moves to cloud services.

Considering more than half of HP's profits come from its enterprise business, the success of HP Cloud Services will be important to the company's long-term future of providing infrastructure, presuming the growing trend toward moving more compute and storage to public clouds continues. By the company's own estimates, 43 percent of enterprises will spend between $500,000 to $1 million per year on cloud computing (both public and private) through 2020. Of those, nearly 10 percent will spend more than $1 million.

HP Cloud Services will also test the viability of the OpenStack Project, the widely promoted open source cloud computing initiative spearheaded by NASA and RackSpace and now sponsored by 155 companies with 55 active contributors. Besides Rackspace, HP is the most prominent company yet to launch a public cloud service based on OpenStack. Dell has also pledged support for OpenStack.

But with few major implementations under its belt, the OpenStack effort last week came under fire when onetime supporter Citrix pulled back in favor of its recently acquired CloudStack platform, which it contributed to the Apache Software Foundation. While Citrix hasn't entirely ruled out supporting OpenStack in the future, the move raised serious objections to its current readiness.

Biri Singh, senior VP and general manager of HP Cloud Services told me he didn't see the Citrix move as a reason for pause. Rather, he thought Citrix's move will be good for the future of open source IaaS. "You are seeing the early innings of basic raw cloud infrastructure landscape being vetted out," Singh said. "I think a lot of these architectural approaches are very similar. CloudStack is similar to the compute binding in OpenStack, which is Nova. But OpenStack has other things that have been built out and contributed [such as storage and networking]."

The promise of OpenStack is its portability, which will give customers the option to switch between services and private cloud infrastructure that support the platform. "Being on OpenStack means we can move between HP and Rackspace or someone else," says Jon Hyman, CIO of Appboy, a New York-based startup that has built a management platform for mobile application developers.

Appboy is an early tester of HP Cloud Services. Hyman said he has moved some of Appboy's non-mission critical workloads from Amazon to HP because he believes HP will offer better customer service and more options. "With Amazon Web Services, the support that you get as a smaller company is fairly limited," Hyman said. "You can buy support from Amazon but we're talking a couple of hundred dollars a month at least. With HP, one of the big features they are touting is good customer support. Having that peace of mind was fairly big for us."

The other compelling reason for trying out HP Cloud Services is the larger palette of machine instances and configurations. For example, Hyman wanted machines with more memory but didn't require any more CPU cores. However in order to get the added RAM with Amazon, he had to procure the added cores as well. With HP, he was able to just add the RAM without the cores.

Nonetheless Amazon is also responding by once again lowering its overall prices and offering more options, Hyman has noticed. "They are driving down costs and making machine configurations cheaper," he said. Hyman is still deciding whether to move more workloads from Amazon to HP and will continue testing its service. "Depending on how we like it we will probably move over some of our application servers once it is more battle tested," he said.

Today's launch is an important milestone for HP's cloud effort. Singh said the company is emphasizing a hybrid delivery model, called HP Converged Cloud, consisting of premises-based private cloud infrastructure, private cloud services running in HP datacenters and now the public HP Cloud Services. HP offers the option of letting customers manage its cloud offerings or they can be managed by the company's services business.

"It's not just raw compute infrastructure or compute and storage, it's a complete stack," Singh said. "So when an enterprise customer says 'I have a private cloud environment that is managed by HP, now if I need to burst into the public cloud for additional bandwidth or if I need to build out a bunch of new services, I can essentially step into that world as well.' What HP is trying to do is deliver a set of solutions across multiple distributed environments and be able to manage them in a way that is fairly unique."

With its acquisitions last year of Autonomy and Vertica, HP plans to offer a suite of cloud-based analytics services that leverage Big Data, Singh said. On the database side, HP is initially offering MySQL for structured data and plans NoSQL offerings as well.

Initially HP Cloud Services will offer Ubuntu Linux for compute with Windows Server slated to come later this year.

A dual-core configuration with 2 GB of RAM and 60 GB of storage will start at 8 cents per hour. Singh characterized the pricing of HP Cloud Services as competitive but doesn't intend to wage a price war with Amazon (although since we spoke, HP announced it is offering 50 percent off its cloud services for a limited time). "I think the market for low cost WalMart-like scale clouds is something a lot of people out there can do really well, but our goal is to really focus on providing a set of value and a set of quality of service and secure experience for our customers that I think there is definitely a need for," Singh said.

Singh also pointed out while HP will compete with Amazon, it also sees Amazon as a partner. "We work with them on a bunch of things and they are a customer," he said. "I think there is plenty of room in the market, and we have focused our efforts on people looking for a slightly alternative view on how basic compute and storage is provisioned."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/10/2012 at 1:14 PM


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