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HP TSG Analyst Summit: The Sound of Silence

Between them, HP’s Ann Livermore and Tom Hogan delivered on Tuesday what I’m sure they believed to be a fairly comprehensive and detailed report to the analyst audience on HP’s businesses generally – and in the case of Hogan, software specifically. They laid out a vision of HP as a technology firm delivering a variety of Business Information Optimization (BIO), Business Technology Optimization (BTO), and Adaptive Infrastructure solutions on top of their various hardware (server, storage, etc) and services offerings. All very high level and, at least in theory, CIO-oriented messages.

Nowhere, interestingly, as one of the Forrester analysts and I discussed earlier today, did they utter the words “open source.” Not once that I caught. Nor, as you might deduce from that omission, the word “developer.” Even considering the audience – analysts, the presentation seemed one sided in its portrait of HP as a firm that is entirely focused on a singular audience – the CIO. Driving the point home, Hogan (who was hired away from his gig as the CEO of Vignette) at one point characterized HP as a vendor “here to make [the CIO] successful.”

Given their current product portfolio or recent M&A behavior, this is perhaps not terribly surprising. Nor are the apparent returns on the strategy all that poor; in Q4 of ’06, we were told, software was the most profitable division of the firm. But anyone who’s seen me give this talk (PDF warning) or variations thereof should be able to guess what I think of a major vendor’s high level software business rollup that mentions neither developers nor open source.

It’s not that I believe that the CIO role has been somehow been made irrelevant or obsolete by the power shift – CIO to developer – that I see in the successes of Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and so on. As I’ve told many a RedMonk contact, customer or prospect; the CIO is, at the end of the day, usually the one with the checkbook, and last I checked those are still important. The CIO will remain an important audience for the foreseeable future. They’re just not the only important audience. Or even, in many organizations, the most important. And yet that’s all HP appeared to speak to in Tuesday’s presentations.

The real shame, from my perspective, is that such messaging not only doesn’t claim credit for what I consider to be a solid track record in supporting and working with a variety of open source projects and communities – from Debian to JBoss to MySQL – it acts as if it doesn’t exist. While most vendors we speak with are all too eager to highlight their open source credentials, HP chooses to ignore theirs. And not just in some basic marketing materials or a launch deck, but their annual business summary for a presumably influential (the hotel rooms were pretty nice) audience. I cannot speak for my analyst colleagues, but I personally found it bizarre.

When I broached the subject with Christine Martino (VP, Open Source & Linux / Linux Foundation BoD member) and Doug Small (Worldwide Dir Marketing, Open Source & Linux), they acknowledged it but pointed to other software asset omissions. I remain unconvinced. One of the reasons that I took the time to attend the conference, in fact, was the news that HP was making $25M supporting what I personally consider to be the largest non-commercial Linux ecosystem in Debian. While the actual dollars are a mere drop in the bucket in the overall software revenue picture, the credibility and goodwill that that kind of support can win you is far from unimportant. Particularly when, as Hogan allowed in his talk, some customers have questioned HP’s commitment to the software business.

Perhaps these presentations are merely a setup for future moves, be they acquisitions or divestitures. Perhaps they genuinely feel that either or both of developers and open source are relatively unimportant compared to the promise of BIO/BTO/etc. Or maybe it was just what they felt this particular audience wanted to hear (rumor had it that one larger firm sent 70 – not a typo – analysts). From where I sit, however, both developers and open source would merit at least a mention, if not a few minutes explanation of what strategic relevance they have or do not have to HP’s software ambitions. But maybe it’s just me.

Disclaimer: MySQL is a RedMonk customer, while HP is not. HP comped hotel, but not travel.

Categories: Conferences & Shows, Open Source.

  • Christopher Mahan

    Stephen,

    Interesting.

    I suppose this could all be because there is more than one kind of CIO.

    I think they can be broadly brushed into two camps: The Innovators, and the Maintainers. From inside looking out, I think that for every five Maintainers, there might be one Innovator.

    Here’s what I think: The Typical Maintainer CIO is scared witless of FLOSS, and can’t possibly be expected to remain rational and in his/her comfort zone when Debian GNU/Linux and PostgreSQL are even mentioned. And uncomfortable Maintainer CIOs, unfortunately, seem to have a tendency to think their time so valuable that they will not stick around.

    Innovator CIOs don’t need to be told any of this. They already have Thumpers on orders and expect to run Solaris 10 with PostgreSQL on them.

    But HP, wisely I think, knows its offerings are more geared toward the Maintainer crowd, and as they are more numerous, prefers that market anyway. So any mention of Open Source, Free Software, and Community Development and Support needs to be expunged from any presentation to or communication with these Maintainer CIOs.

    Or maybe I’m wrong. Who knows?

  • http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor james governor

    i like the innovator/maintainer distinction chris, but there are other types too. some CIOs are definitely not maintainers- they like to initiate major change projects, with big budgets and so on. but neither really are they innovators, per se. you might call them radical conservatives. they want big change – to compare with their peers.

  • http://redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    Christopher: not i, certainly. and i’m not against HP tailoring their messages. but if i worked there, and i was the sole large vendor not making more noise around open source, i’d be worried.

    james: i think we know a few of those ;)

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