GigaOM Interview: Russ Daniels, HP's Cloud Guru

How HP sees cloud changing the hardware business

There's a lot of marketing being done to promote the cloud, but few big computing companies have come out with clear strategies related to providing computing or other technology as a service that's paid for on a per-instance basis. Sun Microsystems plans to launch a cloud later this summer and is working on standards for cloud computing, and IBM is putting out a lot of press releases, but only Hewlett-Packard has actually explained how it views the cloud, notably how it thinks the concept of on-demand computing will change corporate IT departments. So I chatted with Russ Daniels, vice-president and chief technology officer of HP's Cloud Services Strategy, to see where the company stood regarding openness in the cloud and how the rise of external clouds might affect the hardware business. HP sells hardware to cloud providers, offers several services via the Web (some would call them cloud services), and is working to help enterprises capture the value of virtualized and automated IT systems. An edited version of my conversation with Daniels is below.

GigaOM: Where does HP stand with regard to openness of the cloud, and what steps will it take to ensure the portability of data?

Daniels: There's a deep stack of inter-operability standards already in the Internet such as TCP/IP and HTTP. All of those protocols and rich innovations are already open standards. But the second area that people talk about is portability, which is different than inter-operability. Can you take something and have it run in one location and then have it run someplace else? Portability is much more problematic if you look at the IT industry. The concept that we're going to have portability related to the clouds, given the less-than-perfect history of portability in technology, is not just an easy thing to accomplish. Innovation tends not to occur in standards bodies. Innovation tends to occur where there are teams focused on solving new problems for customers.

Since portability is an old issue that hasn't been solved, is it even something we can realistically expect from cloud vendors?

When developers or enterprises look at adopting technologies, cloud providers, and platforms, they should be cautious and careful to consider the risks of vendor lock-in. But the good news is that there's lots of open-source technology that is relevant to the cloud and a set of horizontal programming models that have been adopted.

How will the adoption of cloud computing change the hardware business?

At a high level we think that as cloud develops, it opens the markets by reducing cost and complexity for IT. That will increase demand for technology, and since we are a tech vendor, that's good news. The shape of economic buyers will change, with hardware divided between equipment sold for on-premise and off-premise buyers. There's more capacity in on-premise, dedicated computing, but growth for off-premise, shared computing (such as those offered by Amazon Web Services or Rackspace's CloudServers) is higher.

Two years ago, cloud meant all the compute capacity in the world would end up in large data centers, and the industry thought the only energy-efficient way to operate was with these hyperscale data centers. But there's been a change in that perspective as products such as containerized data centers allow customers to build energy-efficient compute capacity at low incremental costs, so there will be far more participants in the cloud than many people would have thought many years ago.