There’s a lot of marketing been done to promote the cloud, but few of the big computing companies have come out with clear strategies related to providing computing or other technology as a service that’s paid for on a per-instance basis. Sun Microsystems plans to launch a cloud later this summer and is working on standards for cloud computing, and IBM is putting out a lot of press releases, but HP has actually explained how it views the cloud, notably how it thinks the concept of on-demand computing will change corporate IT departments.
So I chatted with Russ Daniels, vice president and chief technology officer of HP’s Cloud Services Strategy division, to see where HP stood on openness in the cloud and how the rise of external clouds might affect the hardware business. Hewlett-Packard sells hardware to cloud providers, offers several services via the web (some would call them cloud services) and is working to help enterprises capture the value of virtualized and automated IT systems. An edited version of my conversation with Daniels follows.
GigaOM: Where does HP stand with regard to openness of the cloud, and what steps will it take to ensure the portability of data?
Daniels: There’s a deep stack of interoperability standards already in the Internet such as TCP/IP and HTTP. All of those protocols and rich innovations are already open standards. But the second area that people talk about is portability, which is different than interoperability. Can you take something and have it run in one location and then have it run someplace else? Portability is much more problematic if you look at the IT industry. The concept that we’re going to have portability related to the clouds, given the less-than-perfect history of portability in technology, is not just an easy thing to accomplish. Innovation tends not to occur in standards bodies. Innovation tends to occur where there are teams focused on solving new problems for customers.
GigaOM: Since portability is an old issue that hasn’t been solved, is it even something we can realistically expect from cloud vendors?
Daniels: When developers or enterprises look at adopting technologies, cloud providers, and platforms, they should be cautious, and careful to consider the risks of vendor lock-in. But the good news is that there’s lots of open-source technology that is relevant to the cloud, and a set of horizontal programming models that have been adopted.
GigaOM: How will the adoption of cloud computing change the hardware business?
Daniels: At a high level we think that as cloud develops, it opens the markets by reducing cost and complexity for IT. That will increase demand for technology, and since we are a tech vendor that’s good news. The shape of economic buyers will change, with hardware divided between equipment sold for on-premise and off-premise buyers. There’s more capacity in on-premise, dedicated computing but growth for off-premise, shared computing (such as those offered by Amazon Web Services or Rackspace’s CloudServers) is higher.
Two years ago, cloud meant all the compute capacity in the world would end up in large data centers, and the industry thought the only energy-efficient way to operate was with these hyperscale data centers. But there’s been a change in that perspective as products such as containerized data centers allow customers to build energy-efficient compute capacity at low incremental costs, so there will be far more participants in the cloud than many people would have thought many years ago.
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.