HP Desperately Wants To Be Innovative Again

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Let’s face it, HP was once the king of Silicon Valley, but over the last several years, the company has had issues due in part to the revolving door in the CEO office. While the company has finally gained some stability with Meg Whitman, the lack of consistent leadership has resulted in shifting priorities and changing strategies. And the products for which they were once so famous might have lost some of their shine in the process. HP clearly wants to regain its glory and is trying hard to make today’s ProLiant Server Gen9 update more than a hardware upgrade. The company wants it to be a notice they’re ready to innovate again.

Peter Evans, VP of HP servers global marketing goes so far as to say this isn’t just a product release, it’s a strategy for the next 25 years, and he says that means, “It’s not just about optimizing servers, but optimizing for business outcomes.” On a technology level that means updating the servers with the latest generation of Haswell chips, but as Evans points out everyone is doing that, so it’s just a series of linear, incremental updates driven by the latest technology from Intel.

With the latest upgrade, HP provides the obligatory chip updates of course, but he said it went a step further. It wants to ease the load on data center managers and make it simpler and cheaper to run in-house in the age of the cloud by offering a pool of resources that managers can scale up and down as needed in a cloud fashion.

It hopes to bring the agility and economics of the cloud back in-house, and he claims the new generation of ProLiant servers does just that by lowering the cost per square foot and per kilowatt of running these servers. And he claims, the new servers offer a 3x improvement over the previous generation of ProLiant servers and competitor offerings.

Secondly, HP is working hard to reduce the time it takes to get jobs done. It wants to automate where possible and to “reduce the number of clicks” to complete a job. For instance, he claims that a server upgrade, which could take hours or days to complete in a large server farm, could be reduced to seconds with this upgrade because of huge efficiency improvements in the process. Instead of upgrading each machine in a serial fashion, he says they now upgrade in cascading fashion so the servers upgrade almost simultaneously.

Finally HP wants to improve what Evans calls “the value of the installation” by giving customers the information to operate in a more efficient manner. For instance reducing the number of license needed because they are not being used.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy sees HP’s goals here as genuine. “HP is on a mission to change the server market. They’re trying to move the market from a homogeneous one to a more heterogeneous one, where servers are focused on specific server applications but also tackling new storage and networking workloads. HP’s Gen9 line holistically is doing just that, but it’s more than one server. You need to look at the entire line from the classic rack to blades to Moonshot and Apollo and new products that will be coming,” Moorhead wrote in an email.

This focus on business value is certainly an improvement. Most businesses today don’t care about benchmarks. It probably has little relationship to what will happen in their data center, but they do care about focusing on business problems and solutions, and they are very likely looking for vendors who can solve their problems, not simply check a box on the technology update cycle that everyone is doing at about the same time.

The problem is it’s hard to make bold statements without something to back it up and while HP is certainly talking a good game, and the hardware and software combination described sounds bold, innovative and ready to rock the data center, Martin Hingley, an analyst at IT Candor in England says all the players are saying the same thing, and maybe HP isn’t quite as innovative as it wants us to believe.

“I’m talking to all the server players about the new Intel machines. They all have lengthy preliminary slides about this not just being a chip announcement. HP is the leading x86 server provider. It’s been too much of a hardware only player and is trying to catch up with Integrated Systems – where Cisco and Dell are winning – and workloads – where IBM and Oracle are kings,” Hingley explained in an email.

But analyst Moorhead sees this generational leap as more than just marketing hype. “HP is actually delivering on the early promise of application-specific servers. When I look across ProLiant Gen9, Moonshot and Apollo, then factor in what’s next, I’m expecting big things. The only place they really need to shore up are their appliances and better meeting the server needs of the largest scale-out datacenters, who are increasingly buying from ODMs (original design manufacturers) like Quanta. HP is working hard on both fronts.”

All of this means that HP’s level of innovation here is debatable, but they are clearly making some sort of pivot, even if it’s as Hingley suggests, just to catch up with competitors.

However you see it, HP still controls a good chunk of the server market, and this leap forward of trying to be more than a hardware-only player will certainly help sustain that lead, even in the age of the cloud and server commoditization.

Evans says, the industry debate around whether servers matter any more isn’t really a relevant argument and the focus needs to be firmly on the customer. “What we’re finding is that infrastructure matters more than it ever has. The ‘Is server commoditizing’ question is irrelevant. We are thinking the incremental generational approach based on chip advancements will no longer server the customer’s needs.”

Time will tell if HP has made the right call here.

PHOTO CREDIT: (c) Can Stock Photo