Daily Archives: June 24, 2010

HP’s Converged-Infrastructure Story Gets Better, but Customers Understandably Wary

Earlier this week, Hewlett-Packard took further strides toward the realization of its vision for converged infrastructure. The occasion was HP’s TechForum 2010 event in meretricious Las Vegas, where nothing is as it seems and sensory overload is a state of mind.

HP announced a raft of products and product enhancements, including new server, storage, and data-center offerings. The prominent themes were automation, cost-reduction, efficiency, simplification, and — lest we forget — convergence.

HP’s message was one of coherence and symmetry. You can see where it’s going and how these product announcements — which brought HP up to speed with its competitors in some areas (rack-mount and blade servers) and arguably ahead in others (simplified application provisioning and server energy-effiency management) — advance the company, and perhaps some of its customers, toward an all-HP converged data center.

Still, HP hasn’t delivered a knockout punch, with this announcement or any that preceded it. Instead, it has fleshed out a narrative, telling a better story as it goes along. Gaps remain, especially in networking, where HP has yet to fully integrate 3Com and its product portfolio into its grand scheme for converged infrastructure. That story will come, I’m sure.

A bigger concern, though, is whether customers will buy what HP is selling. Early indications suggest customers are understandably wary about getting boxed into HP’s self-contained world of converged servers, storage, networking, management tools.

HP will cavil here, protesting that what it offers isn’t proprietary. It will say, as it does, that HP’s converged infrastructure is built on open standards, and that customers “can change out whatever they like.”

Well, HP is being disingenuous. It knows that’s not entirely true, and so do savvy customers.

Yes, much of HP’s hardware products are based on industry standards that make them functionally interoperable with gear from other vendors. That said, HP includes proprietary management software with its servers and storage boxes that feature special hooks for optimized performance on HP systems. Once customers buy into HP’s infrastructure-management software — for application provisioning, automation, energy efficiency, and so forth — HP hopes they’ll be disinclined to accept any potential performance trade-offs inherent in a mixed-vendor environment.

HP’s challenge, then, is to convince customers that the value inherent in its converged infrastructure is sufficiently attractive to compensate for the perceived or real cost of proprietary lock-in. HP must show that it has a sustainable edge, that it will continue to innovate, that its approach really does deliver compelling ROI and superior cost savings from all that automation, simplification, and — yes — convergence.

It’s a daunting challenge. Customers and resellers aren’t certain they want to take the ride. The former have products and systems that already work from vendors with which they’re comfortable, and many of the latter aren’t sure they want to bet the farm on HP.

For HP, conceiving and articulating the big-picture vision for converged infrastructure was the easy part. Getting the rest of the world to buy into the master plan will involve a lot of hard work. It’s too early to render a definitive verdict, but HP might have to reconcile itself to a world in which customers continue to subscribe to the vendor diversity and system interoperability HP claims to espouse.

Smart-Grid Post at GigaOM Pro

Readers with an abiding interest in the smart grid might wish to check out a piece I wrote for GigaOM Pro (subscription required) on Cisco’s foray into ruggedized networking gear for utility substations.

In that post, I examine the market opportunity, the competitive landscape, Cisco’s strengths and weaknesses in the space, and some of the challenges the networking giant will have to meet as its seeks to extend its hegemony into what should be a natural “market adjacency.”