Hewlett-Packard has unveiled an imaginative cloud strategy apparently founded on the imaginative powers of its marketing people.
The computing and services company said on Monday that it plans an Amazon-like public cloud and Apple-like app store that serves apps to consumers and business users on smart devices.
HP CEO Leo Apotheker claimed the infrastructure part of the service is already rolling out and the app store will land between now and 2012.
HP's cloud and its app store will be based on - and will deliver software based on - technology that it has both acquired and built, in addition to software from partners.
But it's far from clear what software HP is using to build its compute and storage fabric. Apotheker refused to comment on whether HP is using Microsoft's Azure - as the companies said it would in July 2010.
The cloud announcement was part of an HP Strategy Day in San Francisco, California. During the event, HP stressed that its relationship with Microsoft remains as strong as ever despite dodging on Azure and despite Apotheker promising "wave after wave" of earth-bound devices coming from HP running the web-happy webOS. HP acquired the OS when it bought Palm, and it runs a Linux kernel instead of Windows. HP is Microsoft's biggest single partner on Windows.
Apotheker even went as far as to ding Windows 7 - Microsoft's current operating system - as not being ready for use on the kinds of multi-touch tablets his company's planning later this year. The webOS-based TouchPad's due in June.
webOS will ship on HP smart phones, touch pads, PCs, and printers reaching 100 million devices, Apotheker said. He enthused about webOS's ability to connect to the web and other devices.
Asked by The Reg during a press conference at the strategy day whether we can also expect tablets running Windows 7 and Windows 8 in addition to webOS, Apotheker replied: "We will ship webOS tabs and Windows tablets. We just need the right version of Windows to do that."
HP has just a single Windows tablet in the market - the HP Slate 500, which shipped to indifferent reviews.
"This will become a very massive very broad platform," Apotheker predicted of webOS.
Microsoft is now in the process of building Windows 8, which will have a form factor built from the ground-up for tablets, run on ARM architectures so beloved of embedded systems, and is expected to support multi-touch input. Ahead of that, OEMs such as OEM have Windows 7, which has some limited multi-touch and runs only on Intel chips.
Apotheker stopped briefly to gild HP's strategy with the necessary corporate platitudes: "Just to be absolutely clear," he said. "Microsoft is a great partner, Microsoft will remain a great partner. The way we leverage webOS will let us leverage the Microsoft ecosystem too."
Devices were just one part of HP's strategy day. The other was cloud, and it was here that HP's imagination really kicked in.
Apotheker said that HP is building an open platform using its own software plus software bought through acquisitions and delivered through partnerships. HP's cloud will allow developers to build, test, and deploy services, he said.
HP's CEO promised the company would deliver an infrastructure as a service cloud and a platform as a service cloud, with the former rolling out now and the latter including an app store between 2011 and 2012.
Don't mention Azure
HP is already down to deliver a cloud powered by Microsoft's Azure, while also promising to stuff Azure into a box for sale to customers to slot into their data centers.
Microsoft said that HP - along with Dell and Fujitsu - would deliver Azure clouds after first testing its compute and storage framework in their data centers. That was in July 2010 and appliances promised for the end of the year. But, so far, HP, Dell, and Fujitsu Azure appliances are MIA and nobody's saying why.
Apotheker certainly made it sound like HP's cloud would use the long-lost Azure: he said HP's service will support multiple languages, and Azure runs Java and PHP in addition to C# and Visual Basic, thanks to changes by Microsoft to lure non .NET devs away from Amazon.
Asked by The Reg if HP's cloud uses Azure and whether HP might also consider open architectures like OpenStack, Apotheker demurred.
"The technology we will be using for cloud infrastructure is going to be based on a certain number of technologies - let's not go into that right now," he said.
This suggests the Azure-based appliance and the Azure service are dead, HP will use different cloud architectures, or HP has something completely different in mind.
He continued that his company's relationship with Microsoft was - and stop me if you've heard this before - "Strong, is strong and remains strong. There's no change it that."
Asked how HP is going to catch up to cloud leader Amazon, Apotheker said HP's already got the data centers in place to deliver cloud and doesn't need to build out any special data-center facilities. He also staked a claim to HP's "backbone" already running the cloud: he claimed seven out of 10 cloud service providers are HP customers and four our of five search engines run HP.
Servers aside - or what other metric HP's using to measure this claim - it should be noted HP is buying its way in to the cloud. The recent acquisition of big-data specialist Vertitca Systems has allowed it to claim Mozilla, Zynga, Twitter, and big-traffic sites as customers.
Lending credence to the "buy your way in" theory, Apotheker and chief financial officer Cathy Lesjak said that their company plans acquisitions to fill gaps in its cloud software strategy. Lesjak ruled out what she called buying a "legacy" transactional layer - meaning middleware such as IBM's WebSphere, Oracle's WebLogic or Red Hat's JBoss.
Analytics and security are two areas HP's looking at. On the former, they said we should more expect more along the lines of Vertica - HP plans a Vertica-based appliance "very quickly" after the deal closes in the second quarter. "We can leapfrog to where the market is going... Vertica systems indicates where we are heading," Apotheker said.
Lesjak said: "We want to lead through market disruption, not through investment in the old technology stack or the technology of yesterday. We want to invest in the IP that helps customers move to and get value from the cloud." ®