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HP's $1bn 'Linux for the cloud' dream: Will Helion float?

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Analysis Hewlett-Packard has committed $1bn to OpenStack, a Linux for the cloud, over the next two years.

The cash is going on R&D, products, engineering and services, HP said.

The company will iron out the kinks in the OpenStack code and make it work and try to sniff out OpenStack clouds on HP hardware out of the box.

To grease up the pump on HP's OpenStack business, CEO Meg Whitman is setting up an OpenStack professional services unit consisting of consultants and engineers.

In the background to all of this is HP’s OpenStack service, with OpenStack services available from 20 of HP’s 80 data centres in the next 18 months.

HP’s vice president in charge of building the company’s cloud products and services, Bill Hilf, told The Reg the $1bn is a “a bold statement” by HP.

“So many vendors put these big numbers out there… as we were preparing for this, we wanted to be clear this is not some fictional thing,” Hilf said.

HP appears to be modelling its bravado on the example of another big systems company: IBM, which also famously put its wallet where its Linux was. Hilf never mentioned it by name, though.

Twice, in 2000 and 2013, IBM committed to spending $1bn on Linux. $1bn was peanuts for IBM, as it is for HP, but in PR terms it got the world’s attention, which HP certainly seems to be grabbing now.

The gestures cemented IBM’s association with Linux, much to the chagrin of other firms, such as Oracle, whose people frequently complain that their firm's employees contributed just as much to the Linux kernel as IBM.

On the crowded OpenStack project that HP has decided is its ticket out of the commodity PC business, it will certainly want such an association.

IBM's Linux love - it was all about servers

IBM’s actual work on Linux in the 2000s wasn’t a philanthropic exercise - it gave IBM something vital in selling its x86 servers. It freed Big Blue from relying on single supplier Microsoft. IBM improvements to Linux and IBM server sales drove customer demand, which then drove improvements to Linux. Linux unhooked the enterprise data centre from its reliance on Windows and saw companies run both OSes.

HP hopes to emulate that push-and-pull effect on OpenStack for its hardware.

As for OpenStack, it could certainly use the patronage and focus of a large tech company. Billed from day one as the "Linux for the cloud" and an open alternative to Amazon's EC2, OpenStack hasn’t entirely fulfilled its promise.

Many in IT have put their names to OpenStack, but many have stayed mere watchers. More than half the work is done by RackSpace, Red Hat and “others".

The project has fallen to the worst of open-source navel-gazing and self interest, with people fiddling with the bits and sub-features they find interesting and losing sight of the bigger architectural picture.

HP’s chief operating officer for cloud, Saar Gallai, last week singled out OpenStack’s Neutron, to manage network devices as a service, as suffering major holes.

This is taking its toll. Four years since it was unveiled, OpenStack is a work in progress while Amazon is now chipping away at enterprise customers. Amazon went from from provider of plain-old-iron to full stack and ecosystem provider. It is the cloud version of what Windows became in the early 1990s.

Today you get companies like Bashton calling themselves a service provider but which actually owns absolutely no physical network service infrastructure – the company is an Amazon virtual software play.

Does Hilf see holes in OpenStack as opportunity or problem for HP?

Hilf is kind on OpenStack, saying it’s “young” and growing fast, but reckons HP’s got the chops to make it suited to the enterprise.

HHP will bring the experience from its Converged Systems to make changes to the OpenStack code in infrastructure, life cycle and workload management, and integration with HP systems and third-parties software he said.

HP is taking responsibility for the OpenStack code, with its a branded version – Helion, in two editions – community (free) and charged.

Hilf says HP decided to make Helion available because customers had struggled to get OpenStack running at scale and were begging for HP’s software.

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