HP gets ready to make a cloud ... by boiling the ocean
If only it was Sun, we'd have a headline hat-trick
The goals of Hewlett-Packard's OpenStack cloud are immodest, perhaps even heretical in a Valley where people casually caution you against "boiling the ocean" – or trying to do everything at once.
According to the HP cloud beta announcement page : "HP intends to extend its full spectrum of cloud offerings spanning private, hybrid, and public architectures."
Don't be alarmed, the cloud novice re-assures us: HP's cloud has the "same commitment to leadership" as its existing packaged consulting, software and hardware offerings.
HP is the world's largest maker of personal computers and it only joined the OpenStack community  as a cloud recruit in August, but it is already ready to rumble, it told The Reg.
Not only that, but the year before HP had hitched its wagon to an entirely different star: Microsoft. The world's largest maker of software is also turning cloudy with Windows Azure, and in July 2010 HP was teamed with Dell and Fujitsu to test services and deliver Azure in a box for people to buy.
We're still waiting for an HP Windows Azure appliance – also the appliances from Dell and Fujitsu. Meantime, HP has aligned itself with something billed as a the Linux for the cloud, a community effort whose code is available under an open-source license.
"They [HP] are very big company with lots of cloud VPs. Biri at the moment seems to have enough executive buy-in to make this work"
What's behind HP's confidence and reassurances?
Well before it joined OpenStack, HP was ramping up operations in a way that makes membership a mere formality. HP spent its time staffing up and shifting people around in preparation for the cloud in a push that really ramped up this year.
In early 2011, HP snagged IBM's vice president of cloud computing, Zorawar "Biri" Singh, who become senior vice president and general manager of HP cloud services.
One OpenStack community member we spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, reckoned the wind is at Singh's back. "They [HP] are very big company with lots of cloud VPs. Biri at moment seems to have enough executive buy-in to make this work," we were told.
Singh had been IBM vice president of cloud computing and joined as CEO of single-sign-on startup Encentuate when it was bought by IBM in 2008.
HP has raided Rackspace, which helped launch OpenStack in 2010, and which become a driving force behind the project's governance. HP has hired Rackspace director of software development John Purrier in a role that is not yet clear. Purrier's LinkedIn  bio still lists him as a director of OpenStack at Rackspace but he now has an official HP email address. We know because we emailed him. He didn't respond.
HP has also reorganised for cloud. Patrick Scaglia, the vice president and chief technology officer of HP's imaging and printing unit for a period of five years become VP and CTO for HP's cloud services and applications in June.
Leading them all is Shane Robinson, executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer. A former Compaq man, Robertson was a principal architect of the Compaq-HP merger and went on to lead HP's purchases of Mercury, Opsware, EDS and 3Com along with 30 other companies that helped take HP deeper into software, services and networks.
We've heard of online services
HP has been racing to soak up the kind of brains and talent needed to build compute and storage fabric capable of boiling the ocean.
It has had to: HP is a maker of PCs and servers, meaning that that building and running scalable online services is simply not in its DNA. And while there's a great deal of hype about OpenStack, in its raw, community form OpenStack provides little more than basic building blocks for a potential service. These blocks are also at differing levels of maturity, with the corporate members of the OpenStack community developing the ones that suit their own goals. There's the basic Nova and Swift compute and storage elements, but then you have Quantum for network connectivity with 40 developers from Cisco and Glance for virtual machine images mostly driven by Rackspace.
The really tricky part is not just getting somebody who can build your service based on these blocks, but delivering them on a service-provider-scale architecture capable of scaling to tens of thousands of distributed nodes that deliver reliable, real-time service.
The pool of talent available to draw upon is small, and with 120 companies listed as members of the OpenStack community, competition for it is fierce. OpenStack supporters Korea Telecom and NTT are also building and rolling out their own OpenStack clouds, making the competition even tougher. Those individuals who do know how to program OpenStack are getting passed around and snapped up.
Rick Clark famously flamed out  of Rackspace for fellow OpenStack member Cisco earlier this year. Even OpenStack leader Rackspace is being challenged when it comes to rolling out more services: The Reg has learned that OpenStack is running on just 350 of its hosting servers, more than a year after Rackspace helped unveil the project.
Such is the level of demand that salaries are rocketing: The Reg hears of one recruitment company in San Francisco's Bay Area offering a Googly or Facebook-style starting pay for engineers with experience in OpenStack of $160,000.
"You have to figure out how to get the right DNA into your business. The next big thing to do is to get involved in one of these projects where there are a lot of those guys" – Bias
One OpenStack community member reckoned HP had a long way to go in building its cloud. He's in stealth mode, launching a start-up he claims will deliver clever, provider-level service to the vanilla OpenStack, so naturally he'd make such a claim, but the demands of performance, scale and reliability on public cloud architectures are undeniable.
"I spoke briefly to them; they are very excited about what they are doing," he said, damning with faint praise.
Randy Bias, CTO and co-founder of OpenStack start-up Cloudscaling, was blunt when he talked to us about the architecture challenge that lies ahead of HP: "What you see in OpenStack today is only 10 per cent of what it takes to build a cloud. The big companies are trying to get in on the hype and momentum because they know they have to, but they have the people inside their business."
HP will quickly achieve a "service-style cloud" but a "web-style cloud" is different, he said. "You have to figure out how to get the right DNA into your business. The next big thing to do is to get involved in one of these projects where there are a lot of those guys," he said.
The problem for HP is everybody in the OpenStack community is trying to learn from each other, while keeping whatever they are working on top secret to gain a competitive edge. "The peer pressure is great because we are all learning from each other," our anonymous community member told us.
If HP is trying to be all clouds to all people, then it'll have to tackle the kinds of customers that might actually have gone for its earlier bet: Windows Azure from Microsoft.
HP is one of Microsoft's biggest partners meaning there's a lot of enterprise-grade customers who could be flipped to the cloud. This is something Microsoft has been trying, as it has talked up the earth-bound enterprise users of its software building apps for, and delivered on, Windows Azure.
A vote for OpenStack doesn't necessarily mean HP has turned its back on these Windows customers. If HP does live up to its claim of providing private clouds – services separated logically, physically or programmatically from the apps and data owned in the cloud by other people – then HP can theoretically do so running OpenStack on its servers with Windows.
OpenStack runs on Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, meaning Microsoft shops get the added plus of Microsoft's management tools without being locked into Azure.
It's not clear, however, how HP will serve Windows customers that want to use C#, ASP.Net, IIS and SQL Server on the public cloud. Microsoft has prepared these things for its own cloud, not OpenStack. And judging by the dearth of OpenStack experience out there and the fact that most OpenStack programmers aren't interested in Microsoft, it will take HP or Microsoft to do the tuning.
So far, Microsoft has only been able to offer more dates for an Azure service from HP. In July, Microsoft claimed HP "looks forward" to making services available to customers "later this year".
Windows or OpenStack?
For a server maker like HP, giving enterprise customers a choice of Azure or OpenStack is the equivalent of giving them the choice of Windows or Linux on a ProLiant server; it means freedom from being locked into the whims of a single supplier. It is an option Apple has gone for, by picking Microsoft and Amazon to run iCloud  rather than just going with one or the other.
"That's the biggest fear the enterprise has: can I move if you become too expensive," a member of the OpenStack community told us. With OpenStack running on Windows Server 2008, OpenStackers would get Microsoft's management without the Azure lock-in.
HP claim its cloud will become all things to all people: public, private and hybrid. This, despite the fact that HP has little experience in building or running one of these, combined with the fact that there's a shortage of people who can help it. This wouldn't be a problem in normal circumstances, if you were a startup or a business running with diverse sources of income. But when you're thinking about cutting loose one of those cash generators , the need to be get it right – and quickly – is critical. ®