HP takes aim at Amazon with public cloud, virtual network components

Hewlett-Packard today announced a series of open source-based cloud offerings and added network automation capabilities to its hardware products in an attempt to carve out its piece of a market currently topped by Amazon Web Services.

HP announced that its public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service offering, called HP Cloud Services, will be launched in May. It's based on open source software from OpenStack and more than 6,000 customers have already used it in beta, the company says. In addition to the public cloud offering, HP also rolled out a series of software applications that allow enterprises to manage their private or public clouds, regardless of whether they use HP hardware or not.

On the networking side, the company is making a move toward software defined networking (SDN) through a series of new network automation tools that will be added to the company's FlexNetwork product.

Analysts say the moves represent HP's attempt to join the increasingly crowded cloud provider market, while the network advancements will give enterprises a new way to automate and virtualize their networks.

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Prior to the announcements, HP commissioned a study that it says found that hybrid cloud models -- meaning those that combine public and private clouds -- are the model most enterprises will use in the future. With that in mind, company officials say it's important to create cloud offerings based on an open source model to allow interoperability between public and private clouds, as well as between clouds and legacy IT environments. "HP Converged Cloud enables enterprises to incorporate a blend of public, private and managed cloud services with their existing IT infrastructure to create seamless hybrid environments that rapidly adapts to their changing requirements," says Bill Veghte, EVP of software for HP, in a press release.

In addition to the announcement of the public cloud IaaS offering, HP also announced its Enterprise Cloud Services portfolio, which are a series of software applications for managing private clouds, business continuity functions and unified communications. HP also announced an expansion of its CloudMaps features, which provide instructions for how certain applications from third-party vendors -- such as Microsoft Exchange or SharePoint -- can be integrated into the HP cloud.

IDC analyst Frank Gens says the company's cloud moves are not surprising. There have been rumors of a public cloud offering from HP for months, and the company's involvement in OpenStack signaled that it may release a product based on the open source software. "I think they've got a strong message that will line up well with HP's perceived strengths in the market," Gens says. Enterprise IT managers are looking for a simple way to manage the complex and fast-evolving cloud market, Gens says. HP can leverage its relationships with enterprise customers by offering a series of cloud offerings and management products, he says.

HP officials played up that point as well. "We bring a lot of DNA to this," says Shane Pearson, VP of software product marketing for HP. "We're in the market already today, and what we're really trying to do is expand what we already provide to give customers more capabilities to manage and deploy clouds."

But, Gens says HP has quite a bit of work to do to catch market leader Amazon Web Services in terms of market share. Ultimately, HP will have to offer competitive prices and access to a massively scalable infrastructure to achieve widespread adoption, he says. HP did not discuss pricing of the public cloud service, which will be available in a few months.

As for the OpenStack involvement, Gens calls that a win-win. It's a shot in the arm for OpenStack, he says, which has had a tumultuous past few weeks. Citrix announced last week it is creating a competing open source cloud model by giving its CloudStack an Apache Software Foundation license. Using OpenStack allows HP to take advantage of the broad community of developers that have worked on the project, all while allowing HP to make the marketing case that its cloud products will not lock them in.

In addition to the cloud products, HP also announced new capabilities that advance SDN technology into its FlexNetwork offering, which is the company's suite of network management products.

Users automate the network configuration by first defining the network requirements of specific applications and characterizing them in a template. Routers and switches in the network are then automatically configured to comply with the predefined network characteristics, such as bandwidth, priority, access control lists, security policies and other attributes. It's a model to replace command line interfaces (CLIs) that have traditionally been used to configure networks. Using the automated techniques allows for faster deployment of network management policies that are customized to specific applications.

Joe Skorupa, a data center analyst for Gartner, says HP is making "a significant step forward in automation of the network," and he says it could mark the death of CLIs.

"The goal here is to get the networking functions involved much earlier on in the process so that the requirements of an application on the network are understood early on, so that policies are developed and rolled out to ensure that the network is optimally configured from the server all the way to the desktop to handle that application," he says. "It finally makes networking an integrated part of the process."

It's part of a revolution, he says. "Sitting down and typing individual commands and hoping you got them all right is not the way to run mission-critical applications." A higher degree of automation reduces costs, improves availability and speeds deployment times, he says.

The new network automation features will be made available as part of the company's FlexNetwork offering and will be released in June. Components include a designer that creates the connection profiles, a policy engine to store the profiles, plug-ins to make connections with hypervisors and engines for deploying those policies out to the network hardware.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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