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HP Goes Public With Utility Computing

PALO ALTO -- HP is broadening its six-year-old utility computing initiative by making it publicly available for the first time, primarily to enterprise customers.

To date, the computing and services giant has incubated the service to a handful of blue chip clients such as DreamWorks and Schlumberger, and select ISVs .

The newly branded HP Flexible Computing Services, unveiled at HP Labs this week, offers several tiers of service including a try before you buy option and an annual "club" membership, which reserves access to HP's computer services whenever they're needed. Aside from the membership fee, customers are only charged for compute services when they use them.

Sun Microsystems and IBM are the other two major players in the utility computing market.

HP also plans to tailor FCS with software for specific industries. The first of these is slated for release in the first half of next year when HP will offer FCS for computer-aided-engineering companies. Several software vendors are working with HP to provide structural, crash and fluid analysis software for the CAE offering including Abaqus, Fluent, LSTC and MSC.

"Utility computing is a very horizontal opportunity but we're also adding a vertical approach for certain industries," Bryan Fowler, global director of utility services at HP, told internetnews.com. "CAE is first but you can imagine many other areas such as a actuarial tables and seismic simulations."

HP was an early pioneer of utility computing when it offered pay-per-use and instant capacity programs to enterprise customers in November, 1999. But its latest announcement was deemed "a disappointment" by competitor Sun.

"We believe we're the leader in utility computing, but we want others to offer standard models to expedite acceptance in the market," Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun told internetnews.com. "What's critical in a true utility, like an electric utility, is standardization and ease of access. I don't want to have to pick my voltage when I call the electric company."

Sun offers flat rate pricing of $1 per CPU per hour. HP is offering a range of pricing depending on the processor. HP's service is available for 55 cents for access to x86 servers, $1.50 for Itanium. HP's servers based on AMD's Opteron chipsets are priced roughly in between. All prices are per CPU per hour. Sun's service is designed for its Solaris operating system while HP will offer Linux, Windows and its own HP-UX operating system.

HP said its choices are designed to tailor customer solutions. "What we bring to the party is simplicity," said Gene Becker, director of utility services at HP Labs. "We're IT geeks. We provide a centrally managed IT facility so customers don't have to."

FCS is available via HP sales reps; the company said customers can be up and running in as little as 24 hours time once application and capacity needs have been determined.

DreamWorks used HP's solution for the animated movies "Shrek 2" and "Madagascar." "We almost did too good a job with Madagascar because people were treating the service like a faucet you just turn on and it's not quite that simple," said Mike Kiernan, manager of systems engineering at Dreamworks. "But it was a huge windfall for us because we were able to increase our CPU capacity by fifty percent and go through more iterations to get the look the director wanted."

In the past, Dreamworks would have scrambled to try and buy more equipment as capacity needs increased. Kiernan said with HP's readily available service it was able to push the envelope on some effects. For example, in "Madagascar" the forest scenes are completely animated and all the leaves move differently in real time. "The computation required to do that was more than we anticipated," said Kiernan.

In addition to its corporate offerings, Sun has a pilot program in place due to go public later this year that allows any customer to access its utility grid through a Web browser and pay for services using a PayPal account. But HP is decidedly focused on the corporate market.

"We're addressing a real need for large scale enterprise customers," said Fowler."[Small-to-medium-size business] is not a focus for us."

Asked what would be a good measure of success for FCS a year from now Fowler said: "If we had a hundred clients in North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific I'd be pretty happy."

HP is a leader in high performance computing with a 31 percent market share, according to IDC. In some respects, FCS is designed to help customers with extra capacity needs who simply can't add more hardware.

"One problem I deal with every day is customers who say my data center is running out of cooling and electrical capacity," said Bruce Toal, director of marketing for high performance computing at HP. "Now we can let those companies outsource their peak computing needs to us. We've made tremendous investments in infrastructure."



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