Bill Hilf knows a lot about vertical integration after spending 10 years at Microsoft. In his current role running cloud product strategy at HP, he knows enough to realize that vertical integration is not a good strategy for the company’s cloud business.
That realization is an important principle in HP’s cloud plans, centered on OpenStack, the open source cloud architecture. Trying to lock customers into an all-HP OpenStack cloud is a bad idea and one a company like HP is in a good position to avoid.
“We would just limit the amount of market opportunity,” Hilf, senior vice president of product and service management for HP Cloud, said in an interview with Data Center Knowledge. “We don’t have one way to monetize at HP; we have lots of ways to monetize.”
Last two of his 10 years at Microsoft Hilf oversaw product management for Azure, the umbrella brand for a multitude of the company’s cloud services. Prior to that, he held general manager positions at several divisions of the software giant, including open source and platform strategy, Windows Server, and technical computing. He joined HP in 2013.
Of course he’d love for a customer to use HP OpenStack software and services to set up their cloud on top of new HP hardware. “We’d love for you to buy HP servers,” he said. “What we won’t say is ‘It only runs on HP servers.’”
Not all of his competitors have the same approach. Oracle, for example, has been focused on enabling OpenStack on its own operating systems and its own hardware. Red Hat’s OpenStack distro is tied to its Enterprise Linux operating system.
Stable Core Platform, Plug-ins for Everything
HP is a highly differentiated company that has lots of different kinds of relationships with customers, not just as a hardware vendor. Some relationships are purely service-based, where the customers don’t use any HP hardware at all. With OpenStack clouds, lots of the relationships are just around software. In fact, most of them have been, Hilf said.
Composability is the main theme. HP wants to have a pure OpenStack platform that can be augmented with as many different plug-ins as possible. “The enterprise needs that flexibility,” Hilf said.
Ability to plug in different kinds of software defined network controllers, hypervisors, or storage systems is very important. “We can’t only have the HP storage solution as the answer. It can’t only be that HP SDN controller is the answer.”
For this model to work in the long run, OpenStack, the core platform, has to be solid, which is why HP has been investing so much in the open source project. It is now considered one of the top contributors, on par with Red Hat and Mirantis, according to Stackalytics, which tracks contributions to OpenStack.
Like many others, Hilf believes OpenStack’s evolution will follow a trajectory similar to the evolution of Linux. The open source OS went from not being considered a serious alternative to Unix to one of the heavyweights in the server world.
“[Linux] eradicated Unix, for sure,” Hilf said. “And it put a major dent into the Windows ecosystem as well.”
Linux was successful because of its flexibility. “As a customer I could do with it what I needed it to do.” Flexibility is what makes OpenStack a major contender to Amazon Web Services, which offers only a few modern configurations.
The amount of customization most enterprises need goes well beyond what AWS has to offer, Hilf said. He brought an example of a large aircraft manufacturer that is an HP customer and the IT architecture the company used to build its latest aircraft.
“You name it, they’ve got one of everything in there. Every hardware switch, storage solution, every database, everything is there. And you look at it, and you go, ‘god, that looks like something from 1983.’ And it is. It’s from 1983, 1987, 2004. That’s real IT.”
As OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier said in his keynote address at the foundation’s Paris summit in November, there won’t be one cloud strategy that will work for everyone. HP, with its open cloud strategy, wants to be in the position to provide each customer the cloud they need.