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HP steals agenda setting crown from IBM

Playing with its big stick

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Hurd's Fiorina impression

HP's Business Technology browbeating appears in its full glory when the company talks about itself.

CEO Mark Hurd's favorite speech documents HP's goal to shift from spending about 75 per cent of its IT budget on data center maintenance and 25 per cent on new technology projects to the exact opposite formula. HP will accomplish this, in part, by moving from 85 data centers scattered around the globe to two centers each in Houston, Austin and Atlanta. The same program has HP cutting back from around 20,000 servers to 5,600 – half of them blades – and retiring thousands of software applications. (At the same time, HP will go from 4,000TB of non-shared storage to 10,000TB of shared storage and from 435 "next-generation" switches to 6,500.)

HP wants to finish off this Herculean task by Oct. 31, 2008 – call it All Hallows Judgment Day. (The company, however, has a long way to go, having cut its data centers down from 85 to just 79 over the past year.)

More often than not, HP refers to its IT shrinking as a "transformation." And it's the very same transformation most of you are meant to undertake.

HP's example proves far more dramatic than other sweeping, past pitches from the likes of IBM, Sun Microsystems and Dell. Looking at the numbers above, you can tell HP is going whole hog on an unprecedented scale. It's looking to do the IT work now, so it can get on with the BT work later.

Marketing master Carly Fiorina failed to pull off a dog food eating/propaganda exercise on this scale. She used to talk about invention, everything going digital and HP's ability to molest you from the PDA to the Superdome. Mark Hurd's HP says, "We're revamping our technology infrastructure in a controlled, albeit radical manner, and this is the way forward for everyone. Spend now to make money and enjoy innovation later. Spend now. Spend now."

While impressive, HP's ambitious message delivery could use some fine-tuning. For example, the company locked reporters out of the Technology Forum press room for three out of the five days of the conference. It's tough to whore for the company when you can't find a reliable internet connection and even tougher when you don't have a free sandwich to make all the slideware palatable.

Shot of HP ad showing executives haning upside down. HP is putting IT on its head

We feel sick

In addition, HP refused to provide me with CIO Randy Mott's Technology Forum keynote material that documented all the numbers behind the Grand Transformation. Mott gave the speech in front of a few thousand people, and I copied down much of the relevant information. Sadly, I missed some of the figures on Mott's rather figure-packed slides.

If HP is so proud of its work, why does it refuse to reiterate the details? Guess we'll have to go digging through its garbage. Blush.

Petty gripes aside, HP fails, at the moment, to really pull off the Business Technology discussion in style given that just about every conversation of merit still revolves around IT. HP would like us to believe that the world has moved past bits, bytes, bandwidth, OSes, chips, application servers and the like. You all know that's not true.

So, HP, in its first effort as the world's most important IT vendor, has picked a very lofty end goal. Such is the nature of the beast.

IBM, for example, never really shipped much On Demand technology despite its numerous claims about having done so. The biggest boy on the block always talks huge, hoping to intimidate others into action and hoping to seem more important than it really is.

If HP wants to be taken more seriously than Big Blue, it will have to slave away at improving the state of technology over the next few years through both practical application and relentless research and development. I'm yet to be convinced that Hurd's HP is up to this task, but will concede that it might be.

If nothing else, HP has seized on its rightful place as the IT market's prime cheerleader. The messages doled out by HP will ripple throughout the industry.

HP might not be able to turn its vision into reality, but the company does seem to be taking its responsibility as the IT alpha male seriously.

To that end, I'm pretty sure that it's not completely wasting your time.®

The essential guide to IT transformation

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