HP has dropped out of the public cloud market, but it's forging ahead with its long-term strategy to provide enterprises with a public cloud-like way to provision private data center resources.
As it makes headlines for killing off its Helion Public Cloud service and for its upcoming split, HP is more quietly plugging away on creating what it says will be a new "composable" class of enterprise infrastructure. HP initially announced its Composable Infrastructure plan as Project Synergy this summer at its Discover conference.
In a blog post, HP described composable infrastructure as "built on fluid pools of compute, storage and fast flexible fabric, disaggregated so they can be quickly composed, decomposed back into the pool and then re-composed in a software template to fit the specific needs of an application or workload that will run on it."
As part of the initiative, the company launched its Composable Infrastructure API, which is native in HP's OneView software for provisioning and managing HP infrastructure. It also launched a partner program with initial partners such as Chef, Puppet Labs, Docker and VMware.
HP recently brought together several cloud and data center thought leaders for a "tech day" to talk about the initiative. In a hotel meeting room in Menlo Park, Calif., HP executives described the effort as making it possible for enterprises to allocate data center resources in the agile, quick manner associated with cloud services like Amazon.
The traditional enterprise IT shop is stuck in an operations-driven, cost-focused environment where it's difficult to move quickly and stability is the goal, said Paul Durzan, VP of product management in HP's converged data center infrastructure unit. Companies want to shift to the "idea economy" that's driven by continuous, fast delivery of applications.
Durzan said HP's Composable Infrastructure strategy is focused on reducing overprovisioning and capex with precise composition of fluid pools of compute, storage and networking. Software defines the pools "to provide an application with the exact footprint it needs," he said, adding that the system will be agnostic as to whether infrastructure is virtual or physical.
"You can deploy at cloud-like speed, develop more applications and update firmware seamlessly," he said.
The tech execs in the room expressed a mix of skepticism and support. The skepticism ranged from questions about hardware requirements to concerns that the initiative actually does the opposite of its goal by adding complexity. "This isn't composable at all," said Rob Hirshfield, CEO of orchestration company RackN and an OpenStack Foundation board member.
Ed Horley, practice manager for cloud solutions and practice lead for IPv6 at Groupware Technology, noted HP's lack of discussion of standards in its concept, and said that the Open Compute Project "is already down this road to a certain degree."
But Cameron Cosgrove, who until recently was VP of enterprise application development at First American Title, said while a lot of practical questions would still need to be sorted out, HP's concept is fundamentally on the right track. He describes it as disruptive because it provides capabilities that are available in the cloud, but not on premise. "So this is a mindset switch."
In an email interview, an outside expert familiar with the project told me that composable infrastructure is critical to IT and business success, but only time will tell "whether HP's focus on the hardware is the right point of entry."
"Coming at the opportunity from the hardware layer goes against current thinking, but many in the industry will argue that it’s still difficult to manage multiple hardware vendors in one shared pool of compute/storage/networking resource," he said. "In other words, if they do this correctly they might gain a footprint and mindshare, especially with existing customers."
HP's initiative is unique only in its hardware focus, but HP's goal is shared by the rest of the industry: make hardware use seamless and frictionless, he said.
The expert added, "Since 99% of enterprises have a mixed environment of hardware in both age and vendor, there is no quick fix to just drop a new HP solution on top, which is why most are focused on this from the software perspective."