Hewlett Packard’s cloud contortions

Such has been the clamour and buzz around cloud computing that mainstream enterprise IT suppliers have had no option but to draft a cloud “story” to tell the market. At the same time, it is precisely those companies who stand to lose the most from cloud computing’s disruptive influence.

Those suppliers are therefore in a difficult position when it comes to designing their cloud offerings. How can they join the cloud conversation without cannibalising existing revenue streams?

In February 2011, Hewlett Packard launched an “infrastructure as a service” cloud offering that seems to reflect that predicament.

In naming that offering Enterprise Cloud Services – Compute, HP is clearly inviting comparison with market pioneer Amazon’s Enterprise Compute Cloud (EC2), but there are some important differences.

Unlike EC2, for example, in which the number of virtual servers can be scaled up or down within minutes, ECS Compute servers have to be commissioned for a minimum of one month.

The ability to scale up or down quickly and according to demand is one of cloud computing’s unique selling points, and although businesses often end up reserving servers for months at a time to win discounts, HP nevertheless seems to have compromised on scalability.

Another difference is that while EC2 is only available directly from Amazon, ECS Compute will be sold through HP’s third party hosting partners too.

EC2 is sold with a minimum of supplementary service, but HP has a services business of its own and system integrator partners to satisfy. There is therefore a managed version of ECS Compute available, which includes extra services such as application lifecycle management and managed upgrades.  

There is certainly demand for hosting services that are managed by a supplier and provisioned on a monthly basis – arguably much more so than for pure “infrastructure as a service” offerings. But HP and its partners already serve this demand with their managed hosting services.

So how does ECS Compute differ from these services? Besides its self-service provisioning dashboard, from the outside looking in the differences look academic.

Behind the scenes, there have been more substantive changes. Through its acquisitions of companies like storage virtualisation vendor 3PAR and network security supplier TippingPoint, HP has accumulated a suite of infrastructure technologies well suited to cloud computing platforms.

Not only is this technology being used to support ECS Compute, it is has also been integrated into another new offering from HP – CloudSystem. A hardware and software stack that HP says will help organisations build their own “private clouds”, CloudSystem’s main components are the BladeMatrix server platform (launched in September 2009) and HP’s Cloud Service Automation software (launched in May 2010).

The extent to which customers really want monolithic, end-to-end cloud infrastructure from a single supplier is untested, but CloudSystem is nevertheless a more natural development for HP than ECS Compute. Private cloud is a “sustaining innovation”, one that builds on existing technology, rather than a “disruptive” one, which replaces it.  

It is quite possible that some organisations have had their appetite for scalable utility computing stoked by Amazon, but would prefer to plump for a better-known brand in enterprise IT, and so chose HP’s ECS Compute service.

However, it could also be that ECS Compute’s principal contribution is to advertise the infrastructure technology that was used to build it.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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