HP Q&A: Converged Cloud is company's chief initiative

Saar Gillai, head of HP's Converged Cloud, talks about how HP provides an on-ramp to the cloud for enterprises

Saar Gillai, named head of Hewlett-Packard's cloud operations in January, is on the hot seat.

Turmoil in the upper ranks has caused consternation among customers over the past few years and while Amazon made early inroads in dominating the market for cloud services, HP has been relatively late to the game. The company announced its strategy to seamlessly extend existing enterprise resources through a hybrid cloud approach using OpenStack just a year ago.

Today, HP's Converged Cloud still remains a bit of a dark horse in the race for cloud business, though it offers compute, storage and content delivery services, and has been upgrading its IT management software to accommodate virtual workloads in the cloud as well.

Prior to leading HP's cloud business, Gillai headed the development, marketing and sales of HP networking products for the cloud, and served as chief technology officer for the networking group. He also worked at Cisco Systems as well as 3Com, prior to HP's acquisition of 3Com. IDG News Service spoke with Gillai, whose title is senior vice president and general manager, about how HP is faring in its approach of offering cloud services to enterprises.

IDGNS: How has customer adoption been thus far with HP's cloud services?

Gillai: Customer adoption has been great. We have over 1,000 customers deploying CloudSystem [software], and that is a good indicator for us, because people are using it for driving private clouds. In addition, we have thousands of customers in the public cloud as well [and some of these] are very large customers.

The cloud is happening faster than most people think, and that is because the value proposition is so great. The base cases for adopting cloud, such as development, testing, and analytics, is a no brainer. The time to value for the customer is so fast, it is so easy to see how they can get value from it.

But we are talking to the customers about the journey. Over time they'll want to migrate additional capabilities -- some of which may be more complex than what they already have in the cloud. You want to make sure you have an architecture that will give you a line of sight, so you won't have to change architectures midstream.

The whole idea behind HP's Converged Cloud is to bridge between traditional private and public across a common management stream. If you are using all the HP lifecycle tools today, you will be able to continue to use those as you move to different cloud architectures that HP provides.

IDGNS: In previous interviews you stated that HP can offer service level agreements that other providers -- such as Amazon -- can't. Explain.

Gillai: The most valuable thing that HP offers is business continuity. SLAs only matter when things go wrong. When things are going well, nobody cares.

The primary difference is that we provide phone support -- direct human access -- at our basic [support] level. If there is a problem, you don't have to look at a Twitter feed to see if the network down. Anywhere else, if you want to talk to a human being, you have to use a different pricing tier.

Also, there is a philosophical disagreement about how you design an application. In some cases, [cloud providers] will say the resiliency is the application's problem and if there is a problem, it is because the application wasn't designed to make due with our resiliency capabilities.

While we feel it is very important to allow customers to build their application in a resilient fashion, we believe that you shouldn't just leave everything up to the application because that puts too much burden on the developers.

So, in our world, we believe we have some responsibility for business continuity. That is the enterprise mindset. Enterprises expect that. As a vendor, you have some responsibility in ensuring that your customer can get the resiliency out of your system.

IDGNS: Rackspace recently launched a program to bring in partners to offer OpenStack deployments, which the company plans to turn into a federated network in which customers can easily move around their virtual workloads from provider to provider. What is HP doing to foster interoperability with its own OpenStack services?

Gillai: HP has always been a supporter of open solutions and interoperability. We have not used lock-in mechanisms to differentiate ourselves from the competition, and we don't plan to do that in the cloud. The differentiation that is going to come between my OpenStack and someone else's OpenStack will not be based on lock-in.

Specifically with Rackspace, we talk with them all the time. We consider them to be more of a partner than anything else. We're collaborating on a lot of things together. We're supporting the concept of ensuring of the ecosystem and maintaining interoperability.

IDGNS: What is the state of OpenStack? We've heard it still may be a bit rough around the edges. But it must be usable if HP is offering it in its enterprise cloud offerings. What work still needs to be done?

Gillai: I think one of the things that certainly needs a lot of work is the whole installation and upgrade experience, in terms of how automated it is. The promise of OpenStack is that it should be like your phone -- it upgrades automatically. We've added a lot of our own intellectual property to ensure that. While a large service provider can afford people [to install and upgrade OpenStack], an enterprise doesn't want to deal with that -- It just wants to pick up the latest releases and have it work.

The key in the next 24 months is to really make it to be plug and play as much as can be expected for the average enterprise to use. But I have no doubt it will get there -- there are a lot of people working on it.

I think there is also work coming out now around performance information -- getting more data about what is going on.

The first thing you need to understand about OpenStack is that OpenStack isn't the solution to everything. OpenStack is a kernel you build on top of and that is where companies like HP can differentiate by adding capabilities. Some of these things may be part of the OpenStack kernel and some may be a value-add that is provided by vendors like HP. That's OK, as long as it doesn't break the base OpenStack.

The beauty of OpenStack is that you can add value on top and you can add value at the bottom. At the bottom, you can provide drivers that bring out the value of your hardware. And you can differentiate on top by adding lots of plug-ins for manageability and so forth.

IDGNS: HP has been under a lot of scrutiny lately. What are you doing to shield your customers from any internal management storms the company may be experiencing? And what support are you getting from HP President and CEO Meg Whitman, and your immediate supervisor HP Chief Operating Officer Bill Veghte?

Gillai: Prior to Meg, there was more churn in the high executive ranks at HP than would be great for a big company. Since Meg joined three years ago, things have dramatically stabilized. With Meg's leadership, [company stability] has not been an issue in the last six to nine months. It was definitely something that was asked about last year but no one asks about that anymore. It's not an issue any longer.

In terms of support, the cloud is actually Meg's number one initiative. She has said that, and she is definitely involved. She cut a lot of the bureaucracy out, so it is very streamlined. I have a review with her and some of the executive staff once every few weeks on progress. Bill is very involved with the strategy and helping out. This is a top activity. It's got the full attention of Meg and Bill and the executive council at HP.

IDGNS: What will we see from the Converged Cloud line of business in the next two years?

Gillai: I think you will be seeing the continuation of the strategy we put in place in April 2012. In the next 24 months, you'll see significant announcements around platforms and capabilities, both from a usage and from a developer's perspective.

We talked about OpenStack two years ago, and at that point there was a lot of naysayers. And we were among the first to say hybrid is important. Now, two years forward, everything we have said would happen is happening. No one is questioning the need for hybrid -- 75 percent of CIOs questioned said they want a hybrid delivery model. And OpenStack has become the Linux of cloud -- it is recognized as the open platform that the cloud will use. This is a validation of the strategy we chose to take. This puts us in a great position

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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