Digital transformation moved from buzz word to reality within a matter of months as companies responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Antonio Neri, CEO of HPE, speaking at the HPE Discover keynote said, “The future everyone talked about before the pandemic is now here, ahead of schedule.” He went on to say the enterprise of the future will be edge-centric, cloud-enabled, and data-driven. Most importantly, Neri said we’re evolving from the Information Age to the Age of Insight. For this, HPE said it’s focused on building an edge to cloud platform that connects, protects, analyzes, and acts on data, whether it’s in the cloud or at a company’s site.
The push to strategic vendor
HPE wants to position itself as one within a handful of strategic partners that IT leaders look to during and after the pandemic. To do this, the company has amassed a set of assets that span everything from on-premises wireless and data center services to cloud computing offerings. It’s earmarked $2 billion in financing to help customers and partners with financial hardships during the pandemic. Additionally, it upgraded and integrated a series of assets to deliver a more solutions-based approach, which is all the rage with cloud computing providers at this time.
HPE GreenLake got a significant expansion during the HPE Discover conference. The company announced new cloud services that span from containers, virtual machines and Machine Learning Ops (MLOps) to the storage, compute, networking and data protection. The move to a more solution-based approach means HPE is offering workload-optimized preconfigured hardware and software solutions that the company claims can get a customer up and running within 14 days.
Ezmeral: The new gem of HPE’s cloud portfolio
Software is one of the welcome returns to the HPE portfolio. After a massive divesture of its software portfolio to Microfocus for over $8 billion in 2016, HPE has returned to the software game with a set of cloud-native assets that it believes is more suited to designing a modern cloud environment. The conference ushered in an umbrella brand for the company’s software, HPE Ezmeral, which includes assets from its acquisition of MapR and BlueData. It offers five broad categories of services, including IT automation and AI Ops, container management, AI/machine learning and data analytics, security and cost control.
By bringing all its software assets under HPE Ezmeral, it can offer customers solutions instead of point products to help IT modernize and containerize applications. IT can leverage parts of the portfolio to optimize, manage and run infrastructure with automation and AI as well as provide security for that data. HPE Ezmeral can be licensed to run on any infrastructure, on bare metal or on VM, and on HPE or non-HPE hardware. Ezmeral can run on any cloud or data center on the edge. All of the HPE sessions I attended focused heavily on providing IT with options of where and how to run various parts of the cloud stack. Most importantly, software is where differentiation gets built in cloud computing offerings. Without a software stack, HPE would be relegated to the land of box vendor.
How do we get to multi-cloud?
Neri noted that IT leaders face the challenge of two divergent operating models, one in the cloud, and one on-premises requiring companies to pay to maintain both. Neri said the market will shift from a cloud-first mandate to a cloud-everywhere mandate, and usher in the next wave of digital transformation. The goal is to deliver the benefits of the cloud (such as self-service, pay per use, scale-up/down and providers managed) with the ability to have part of your apps and data on-premises. HPE GreenLake offers the choice of connecting to multiple clouds, which is essential for specific enterprise buyers.
HPE aims to provide one consistent operating model with visibility and control across an enterprise customer’s public clouds and on-premises environment for cloud-native and non-cloud native applications and workloads. As IT looks to support a hybrid cloud and multi-cloud world, this vision may be more appealing.
Public cloud services offered many benefits but at least one significant drawback. Organizations had to decide what apps and data could go into a public cloud. Data gravity, app entanglement, cost and security prevented organizations from moving all of their precious data to the cloud. Today, HPE claims that approximately 70% of a company’s data assets currently reside on-premises.
Cloud providers, understanding the companies didn’t want a binary choice, started creating a set of on-premises services that are tethered to their clouds. For example, Amazon has AWS Outposts, which is a fully managed service that extends AWS infrastructure, AWS services, APIs, and tools to any data center, co-location space, or on-premises facility for a consistent hybrid experience. Microsoft offers Azure Stack, which extends Azure services and capabilities to your environment of choice. Google Cloud offers Anthos GKE on-prem (GKE on-prem) which is hybrid cloud software that brings Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) to on-premises data centers.
HPE acknowledges that these efforts resolve specific customer pain points, such as where and how to store data and integrate with public clouds. The problem is these solutions were architected to work mainly with one cloud and are tethered to a specific cloud provider’s control plane. During Discover, various HPE sessions illuminated the issues with these solutions and discussed how it felt it’s GreenLake solution offered a more open and flexible solution to the problem.
It’s a solid start, but it won’t be easy
With its latest offerings, HPE both competes and partners with cloud providers and vendors such as VMWare. HPE is doing a delicate dance where it wants to enable its customers to use any cloud, but it also wants to provide you with an as a service offering.
HPE’s offering promises to allow you to use whatever cloud you want, but also an HPE managed on-premise environment. However, the strategy is not without its challenges. For customers to truly achieve all of these benefits, they’ll need to re-engineer their processes to work with an HPE software and service stack. Change, no matter how beneficial it may be, is hard. In general, cloud computing vendors underestimate how difficult it is to migrate from one solution to another. There is the inertia of the staff, limited technical expertise in the new solution, time and cost. Also, competitors’ pitches, such as Google’s Anthos vision of writing once and running anywhere, sound quite similar. Migration assistant solutions are absolutely essential for any cloud vendors that wish to steal share from its competitors.
The good news, HPE has picked the right problem to solve. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many IT leaders to rapidly adopt cloud computing services, you can’t get everything over to the cloud. After more than a decade of public cloud services, it’s clear that IT leaders also don’t want to migrate everything to a public cloud. There’s been a constant struggle between accessing the benefits of the cloud while dealing with the limitations of moving data. HPE’s GreenLake is one potential solution to this problem that allows IT buyers to bridge the best of both worlds. It should look very appealing to HPE’s existing customers, but the real win requires HPE to steal business away from competing brands.