HP tosses hat into Web, app server rings

Following behind behind rival Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. pulled together several pieces of its software technology last week, aligning them so as to position the company in both the Web services and application-server markets, and proclaimed itself a software vendor.

This shift is but one facet of broad-reaching changes CEO Carly Fiorina is driving at HP. Analysts, however, said that such a radical change will not come overnight.

Stressing the importance of being seen as a strategic partner that customers feel comfortable working with, Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., said HP has its work cut out for it. "HP has the potential to be perceived [as a strategic partner] in the future, but I don't think their customers perceive them that way today," Gilpin said.

Laying the technology foundation for such an image, HP launched two software suites last week as part of its "software ecosystem," designed for developing, integrating, and deploying services as well as for managing IT infrastructure.

HP Netaction, one of the suites, was formed by bundling the products HP received in its recently completed acquisition of Bluestone Software Inc. with HP's own applications, such as e-Speak e-services middleware and HP Process Manager. The company also launched an HP OpenView e-services management suite.

"The service-centric computing model is where we see the world going, and software and middleware play a crucial role in this reality," said Duane Zitzner, president of HP Computing Systems.

The integration of Bluestone's products with HP e-Speak gives the company a strong arsenal of products and services to compete with IBM Corp., Sun, BEA Systems Inc., and Oracle Corp., said Martin Marshall, an analyst at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, California.

Sabre Holdings Corp., which provides marketing and technology services for the travel industry, will use the integrated Bluestone/HP product suite, said Kevin Smilie, director of marketing systems at Sabre.

"We wanted middleware functionality, and we liked the Bluestone application server, and we really needed the J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] compliance because we don't want to be constricted by proprietary applications," Smilie said.

But at least one industry analyst pointed out that HP is coming to the application server game too late and that companies such as IBM and BEA have more sophisticated technology.

"I didn't see anything from HP saying how they plan to beat BEA [and IBM]," said Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va. "Instead, they tried to convince people that just because they're HP ... customers should buy [software] from them."

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