HP Bidding Adieu To Some Middleware

As the new Hewlett-Packard continues to weed out its low-revenue strategies, one item with a big bull’s-eye painted on it is raising some eyebrows: it’s middleware line.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer and printer maker told analysts earlier this month that it is looking to “retire” some of its products, ones that serve as the glue between two applications.

The company’s new head of high-end computers, Peter Blackmore an executive who worked for Compaq before the recent merger, told analysts at a June 4 meeting that HP would address its middleware problem.

“The market in middleware has moved from where it was 18 months ago,” said Blackmore. “The principal behind it is that we are changing our strategy, and that the assets we have there we will retire, and begin to move to a partnered strategy, because that is what the customer wants.”

A company spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that HP is still “evaluating its options” including partnerships. A formal announcement could come as early as next week.

HP said if it changed any parts of its middleware offerings, it would talk to customers to help them make a transition.

Middleware is sometimes called plumbing because it connects two sides of an application and passes data between them. Common middleware categories include transaction-processing (TP) monitors, distributed computing environments, remote procedure call (RPC) systems, object request brokers (ORB), database access systems, and message passing.

At the heart of HP’s middleware lineup is its Bluestone technology, which the company acquired for $470 million in stock in October 2000. HP said in January 2001 that Bluestone would become “the point of integration for HP’s current Internet software offerings”.

In addition, HP middleware supports its family of Netaction software, which includes a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) application server, a transaction server and developer tools. Rounding out its middleware lineup includes e-Speak, a technology that lets devices such as printers share services over networks and Process Manager.

While HP has been making a name for itself with its printers and servers, the company is losing money in software. The company said it would HP will leverage key relationships that enhance the middleware stacks around both J2EE and .NET. The decision to abandon any of the middleware products will also have an affect on Microsoft and Sun Microsystems .

Several reports indicate the partnerships may include independent software companies such as BEA Systems or Oracle .

HP spokeswoman Sherri Stuart said HP had not made a decision but would work in both main application developing worlds, but declined to comment on rumors about a deal with any developers, including BEA and Oracle.

Bluestone’s middleware contribution to HP’s total picture is relatively small. There are about 500 employees involved with various projects with no contributions from the Compaq acquisition.

But without Bluestone or major support for middleware, some analysts are questioning HP’s quest of becoming a major systems player.

“It really is a little hard for them to claim that they are significant in the software space,” said IDC software analyst Michele Rosen.

The lineup of services consists of HP’s Web Services Platform, which includes a SOAP server and XML document pipeline processing framework, XML Digital Signature security pack, and HP Service Composer and HP Registry Composer graphical tools.

There is also HP’s Web Services Registry; HP Web Services Transactions (HP-WST), HP Application Server (HP-AS) and its resilient edition; HP Message Service (HP-MS) – an advanced Java Message Service (JMS) messaging product; HP Core Services Framework (CSF); HP mBuilder – a visual tool for mobile developers; and HP jmeter – a platform-independent tool that can assist in detecting bottlenecks.

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