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Is HP Ready to Take on Amazon in the Cloud?

Hewlett Packard's CEO had his big coming out party today at the HP Summit event in San Francisco. The event was billed as an opportunity to hear in detail for the first time HP CEO Leo Apotheker's vision for HP (NYSE: HPQ) since he was named to replace Mark Hurd last fall.

Although HP chose the same venue as many of Apple's recent announcements (the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco), the agenda did not call for any flashy new products or thunderous applause by an employee cheering section. Apotheker stepped aside for the one demo, a preview of a 192-core system running sophisticated analytics in real-time of 100 million records. The system was based on technology from recently acquired Vertica.

But the main event here was Apotheker himself, the former SAP co-CEO who has been under a lot of scrutiny since he was picked to take over the CEO spot after Hurd's unceremonious departure.

"This was Leo's first coming out party to the industry to show that he's in charge and he understands the opportunity HP has and that he has a vision for the company," Creative Strategies' analyst Tim Bajarin told InternetNews.com. "And I think he delivered. He was clear on the strategy, putting the cloud front and center and HP's role in providing the infrastructure to support and deliver a whole range of connected devices."

Perhaps the biggest news from the event was Apotheker's promise to take on all rivals and make HP a premier provider across a range of cloud services. Not only does HP plan to roll out cloud services in competition with Amazon Web Services, the company also plans to have an online app marketplace that would compete with Apple for consumers, SMB and enterprise applications and services.

"The vast majority of cloud infrastructure runs on HP so when it comes to catching up, I wonder who has to catch up? Apotheker said in response to a press question about competing with the likes of IBM on the enterprise side.

While he often spoke about broad, strategic plans, Apotheker seemed to bristle in response to a question asking what part of his presentation was news.

"I don't believe we've talked about HP's platform as a service before today," he said.

He also rejected the idea that HP has a lot of catching up and capital investment to make to compete with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft's Azure and others. "HP has already invested quite a lot," he said. "You look at our data centers that are the backbone of our cloud strategy and we already have the data center infrastructure available today.

"There are some bits and pieces in the technology stack we'll build over time, but from a big technology investment we already have what we need today," he added, noting also that HP plans to continue making acquisitions to fill out its cloud portfolio.

A running theme of his presentation and follow up Q&A was that HP aims to deliver "seamless, context-aware experiences for the connected world" and is one of the few companies with the scale and resources to address all key segments – consumer, SMBs and the enterprise.

An open cloud marketplace and webOS everywhere

Without naming competitors such as Apple, Apotheker said HP will offer the first "open cloud marketplace to combine a secure, scalable and trusted consumer app store and an enterprise application and services catalog.

Last month HP finally previewed its plans for Palm and its webOS operating system, showing off new smartphones and the first TouchPad Tablet running webOS. Apotheker said the TouchPad will be available in June and was bullish on webOS's overall importance.

"webOS is an unbelievably attractive and stunning technology," said Apotheker.

By the end of this year he said HP will offer a beta of webOS that can be loaded onto PCs, notebooks and other hardware. "From that point on, we hope to reach 100 million devices a year including printers, TouchPads and smartphones making it a very, massive, very broad platform, he said.

On the PC side, webOS would be preloaded on HP computers alongside Microsoft Windows and Apotheker emphasized several times that HP plans to continue to partner with Microsoft going forward. But he also said webOS will give HP a competitive advantage.

"It enables any device that's connected to get the information it needs. That gives webOS a huge competitive advantage because it assumes all the time you are connected and allows multitasking," he said.

Another big area Apotheker touched on was analytics, including Vertica's technology, and here again he said the opportunity for HP is enormous.

"I don't think anyone really has delivered a scalable solution and analytics as a service," he said. "And you can't just think of this in the framework for the enterprise because SMBs need analytics even more."

Apotheker also said HP will deliver a range of analytics solutions targeted at different industries or vertical segments.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.



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