HP, EMC and others hint at their next moves

HP CEO Mark Hurd sought to reassure investors that HP was on track to righting itself through reorganization and a deeper focus on software and services during an appearance at the Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium last week.

Hurd was one of more than 70 company executives who sat in the hot seat to answer pointed questions from Goldman Sachs analysts, as well as investors. It was Hurd's first appearance, prompting Goldman Sachs analyst Laura Conigliaro to encourage the audience of about 500 people to give Hurd a warm welcome.

The two then settled back into oversized armchairs as Conigliaro tried to get to the bottom of HP's strategy and Hurd's expectations. Hurd said that while HP's first-quarter results were admirable, hard work remained to transform HP into a leaner, more competitive company.

"Can we do better? There is no doubt we can do better," he said.

HP plans to "lead with software and services, and then servers, blades and storage will pull through" as the company responds to a changing IT environment where the focus is on automating processes and reducing labor costs, he said.

As for servers, Hurd refused to budge when Conigliaro tried to press him about choosing Intel or AMD. HP offers the broadest choice to customers when it comes to systems based on Intel and AMD processors.

Hurd noted that AMD has benefits, especially for customers focused on reducing heat and power demands. But he also stressed HP's commitment to Intel and gave a plug for Itanium, the beleaguered 64-bit chip that HP and Intel developed.

"Itanium . . . is very important to us," he said, noting that HP is increasing its investment in Itanium. He said he plans to hit the road with Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini in coming months to promote the processor.

HP will continue its acquisition strategy but will focus on smaller deals, Hurd said. Its internal IT consolidation will continue, and, as far as spinning off business units, Hurd said there are no plans to do so with personal systems, imaging and printing, or enterprise storage and servers, "though underneath those we're looking at everything."

Hurd wasn't alone in facing tough questions. Joe Tucci of EMC, Cisco's John Chambers and Kevin Rollins of Dell were among a handful of other CEOs who were grilled in front of the symposium audience. Other executives also took the hot seat, but in smaller settings.

While the companies that presented at the symposium spanned the gamut, from software makers and hardware vendors to service providers, all shared a similar theme: to provide the tools necessary to move organizations into a more automated, service-oriented world.

Chris Liddell, CFO at Microsoft, said that while rich-client products will remain a priority for the company, "services is an area we're focusing on."

Microsoft also has its eye on search, where it competes with Yahoo and Google. "Clearly, we have a lot to do, and we'll continue to build out there," Liddell said.

As for storage, EMC's Tucci said the changing nature of enterprise IT means big changes in how growing amounts of digital information is stored.

"The way data centers are managed will change dramatically over the next two years," he said.

Web services and the automated flow of data across systems will require more intelligent management and better security for information, an approach to storage EMC refers to as information life-cycle management. As a result, "software is gong to become a bigger and bigger percentage of our mix," he said.

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