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Microsoft's 'evil open source' man on life as HP's top cloud-wrangler

Sweating the assets and building up OpenStack

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Beware the godfathers of SQL

“The godfathers of SQL server would say there’s no way an open-source database can be mature enough for an enterprise, or that the competition is too hard and too advanced,” says the former Redmond man.

What of Hilf’s former employer Microsoft and its cloud gambit Windows Azure – does this feature in HP’s future?

Back in 2010, at least according to Microsoft, the answer was “yes”. Announcing Azure, Microsoft named HP with Dell, Fujitsu and eBay as those firms which would offer cloud services and appliances using the then-new Windows Azure.

Several years on, only Fujitsu has released a true Windows-Azure based cloud. Microsoft is present in HP’s cloud, but only in the form of Windows that runs as a guest on HP’s public cloud – along with Linux. You can pay to use them. The operating system that underpins HP's cloud environment is Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with KVM.

There will be no HP-Azure or Windows HP cloud, but applications on HP’s OpenStack cloud will be able to talk to apps on Microsoft's cloud should the users wish.

“I see interoperability with Windows Azure higher up the stack,” Hilf said. “If a customer has an application running in Windows Azure and wants OpenStack cloud-to-cloud communication, we will allow that interoperability.’

The billion-dollar question: What do enterprise customers want?

The cloud-wrangler reckons if he’s bringing anything from Microsoft, it’s the experience of building a system that’s suited to enterprise customers.

“A lot of what I learned, and our strategy, was formed by spending considerable time in the last five years with enterprise customers – talking to them about cloud in my role on Windows Azure,” Hilf reckons.

What did he pick up? That enterprises like the idea of paying for gigabits-per-second without owning the servers but are constrained by softer issues like putting their legacy online or by regulatory compliance that restricts where their data can go.

What many are doing as a result is taking a hybrid approach, like running mobile apps via a web tier and keeping large chunks of what they run behind the firewall, he says. They also want a "big" vendor that they can call for support, he adds.

Hilf said HP isn’t chasing the Bitcoin or Snapchat user, but rather the enterprise customer that wants a secure and reliable and product environment.

He claimed 1,500 customers on the HP private cloud with a “wide amount of customers for others areas”. These are what he called “classic” customers in more traditional IT shops – large enterprises in the Global 2000.

“These companies are telling us: 'We want a big enterprise behind open source that we can get support and services from'," he says.

The two Michaels

Hilf's position at HP has been to bring the firm’s assets together to create the kind of coherent platform that facilitates this enterprise use.

HP claims part of its increased $811m R&D spend – small by comparison to some of HP’s tech rivals – is because of the investment it’s making in cloud.

“What I spend most time working on is 'How do I build a coherent stack, not just a virtual machine structure, but platform layer, management tools coherent across any deployment environment, in our data centre or their data centre',” the cloud man said.

Recent examples include the HP Cloud System that was built using the firm's 3PAR storage, FlexFabric networking, VirtualSystem and VMware management.

Late in 2013, HP announced big data analytics as a service using software from enterprise search specialist Autonomy and from post-SQL database Vertica – companies acquired from the two Michaels (Lynch and Stonebraker respectively).

Hilf said his goal is to build an HP cloud capable of running the same applications and services anywhere around the world in public and private data centres.

HP wants cloud customers to be running HP database services, messaging, networking and storage, whether they are behind or outside the firewall.

“A lot of work is to bring together the one HP cloud portfolio,” Hilf told us. “The start of the work was getting the execs to understand – and aligning down further in the pipe product plans and roadmaps are going in the same direction.

“You will see us more about productification of the cloud assets – and more and more [companies] turning specifically to the enterprise,” he promised. ®

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