A year ago last month, I asked Sun where their cloud offering was. It was imperative, I argued, that a systems supplier like the Network-is-the-computer firm have the ability to not only be an arms supplier, but a force unto themselves:
Will said future, for example, include a computing landscape largely dominated by four or five big computers – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and so on? And if it does, will Sun be one of those big computers, or merely a supplier?
Narrowly focused efforts like Network.com aside, Sun has to date shown little ambition to be the former. Which would worry me, because success with the latter assumes to some extent a reversal of the general preference among the big computer folks for non-premium, whitebox hardware. If there are going to be four or five big computers, and you don’t have a history of selling into them at volume absent significant subsidies, I’d consider that an issue.
As I’ve been saying publicly and privately for some time, I think it’s important – vitally so, in fact – that the vendor that coined the “network is the computer” tagline offer a network of its own.
You’ve probably seen that Sun has answered that question largely as I would have recommended, announcing their own set of cloud services last week at their CommunityOne event in New York. But while I’ll get to those shortly, in all likelihood, I was in Boston Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in part to learn what another large systems vendor – and, according to one rumor, a potential acquirer of Sun, incidentally – was saying about the cloud.
HP’s annual analyst gathering at the Westin Waterfront this week was predictably well attended and admirably well run, with small armies of analysts crammed into hastily assembled conference rooms marked my lightweight folding tables with powerstrips taped to them. And while much of what was disclosed to the analyst contingent there was marked NDA, sadly, my takeaway is that HP is taking the tack that I would recommend for large systems vendors.
That is to say that they are not counting on merely being a supplier to cloud providers; they intend to market cloud services directly to their customer base. No, it’s not likely that they’ll be selling direct to you and me as an Amazon might, but from what I heard this week HP is cognizant of the need to be a player. Their approach, in fact, is three pronged, as they described it (my words, not theirs):
- Work w/ cloud providers
- Work w/ cloud customers
- Sell cloud services directly
As vendors like IBM can attest, walking the fine line between assisting and competing with your partners – as HP will undoubtedly do in some quarters given their intentions for a direct business – can and will be difficult. But it’s also necessary, in my view.
Not least because the market analogy used by James Mouton (SVP & CTO TSG) and Rebecca Lawson (Director, Service Management Solutions) with me is apt: a long tail. The cloud is quite likely, in my view, to resemble that now cliched curve. In many respects, it does already. Consider the Amazon ecosystem, in which a large supplier dominates the chain at one end, while a myriad of developers, projects and third party suppliers extend the offering by targeting certain specialties, niche or otherwise.
If this model of adoption and commercialization becomes common – and given the history of the technology industry, that seems exceptionally likely – it’s incumbent on systems providers such as HP to service both ends of the tail. As I argued way back when.
While I can’t go into a ton of detail about HP’s cloud story then, as it’s regrettably difficult to filter the NDA materials from the non, the big picture strategy is one that has my stamp of approval.