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HP's Helion is a commitment to Openstack cloud

Interview We talk with HP's man with his head in the clouds
Thu May 08 2014, 16:20

HP HAS ANNOUNCED that it will bring together the components of its cloud computing services under the Helion brand.

As we reported earlier this week, the company has committed $1bn to cloud research and development based on Openstack, allowing its contributions of code to become part of the fabric of the Linux community.

The INQUIRER caught up with Michael Clifford, director of cloud computing for HP UK and Ireland, to talk about the launch. He began by explaining the HP view of cloud computing.

"Our view on cloud computing is that it will be hybrid. Our view has always been that to give customers the best consumption options, you must have an open platform and when we talk about "open platform" these days, really we're talking about open software," he said.

The genesis of Helion has involved three years of investment in the Openstack community, Clifford explained, saying, "We squarely pinned our colours to the Openstack mast a couple of years ago and started working with them to develop what we now know as Helion. A substantial amount of code has been donated, a substantial amount of hardware has been loaned, office space donated and even pro bono legal work undertaken, so we've jumped into the community with both feet, but still mindful that we don't own it, and that it's open source."

With its colours pinned, we asked, does HP believe there is still a market for proprietary solutions or is only open source practically and financially viable?

Clifford replied, "I think that open-source computing has proved that it does destabilise proprietary offerings. I used to be a programmer and 30 years ago, proprietary solutions made for excellent machines, but when the enterprise version of Unix arrived, I felt the opportunities for me as a programmer expand."

Clifford went on to explain that global economics have supported the growth of open source, comparing striking changes in 'cloud economics' to those in the domestic energy market. "Markets like openness. Markets like to find their own levels because they find better service levels that way - a bigger bang for their buck really. You look at the energy market now. We all now know to shop around for our electricity. Same thing applies here, the energy model will apply to cloud computing. You won't want to be locked in. You'll want the freedom to shop around and get better value."

The first version of Helion is already available. The community edition is aimed at proof of concept and learning the system ready for a full enterprise rollout later in the year, however Clifford is keen that its power not be underestimated. "You can take this and run with it now. At the moment, we see the limit as 30 nodes, not because you can't run it any bigger but more because we see it as a proof of concept licence that will allow people to understand it better. It's certainly sufficient to spin up a small cloud. It's not some sort of lab test - it's the real thing."

As well as offering software, and later Helion-branded hardware, HP also plans to offer consulting services. Clifford explained, "We're offering consulting because one of the things we're finding people still struggling to get to grips with is the journey - what applications work best, what they know to rely on, and obviously that's constantly changing."

But as an advocate of the cloud, does Clifford find opposition from the 'it's not a network without a Winchester disk' types?

"They're massively more open to it now. The whole language has changed. This adoption cycle is incredible to watch."

He continued, "Eighteen months ago we were having conversations where people would debate the validity of cloud. Today, we have conversations about when they're going to use it, how they're going to use it, what applications they're going to put on it. It's now part of our computing language. It's incredible how it's changed."

And so for the Openstack cloud, it appears to be all systems go.

"It's in our venacular now. When we talk to people its not a case of poo-pooing it, it's a case of people debating how much they'll use it in the short term but more often and not they're accepting a lot of what they do will be on-cloud and we're now discussing these 'cloud economics'."

While some might consider HP late to the party, with solutions from companies like Canonical and Red Hat already well established, the arrival of one of the biggest information technology companies to bolster the open source community can only be a good thing, not just for cloud computing advocates, but for the open source ecosystem at large. µ


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