HP customers still searching for the adaptive enterprise

HP's introduction of the 'Darwin Reference Architecture' at its customer event in Munich did little to help customers grapple with the elusive concept of the adaptive enterprise

As HP celebrated the first birthday of its vision of the "adaptive enterprise" in Munich this week, the company and its customers still seemed a little unsure of just what it is.

HP executives at the ENSA@Work event, which attracted 5,400 attendees this year, devoted a great deal of keynote time to further explanations of the adaptive enterprise.

Nora Denzel, senior vice president of adaptive enterprise and software at HP, introduced the concept of the "Darwin Reference Architecture" during Wednesday morning's keynote. Some who heard the term took it to mean the forthcoming extinction of the PA-RISC, Alpha and MIPs chips from its servers.

"I'm with you there," said Reg Palmer, OpenVMS systems manager and Tru64 administrator at Centrica, the company that owns British Gas, the AA and Onetel. "Where is the adaptive enterprise?" he asked, pointing to the stands which, several conference-goers noted, had the feeling of a school science project. "Show it to me."

The choice of venue didn't help, said others who like Palmer were still recovering from the Bavarian excesses of Tuesday night. Several commented that the only difference between the International Congress Centre and Munich's nearby provincial airport was the lack of airplanes.

If the adaptive enterprise eluded Palmer, the sense of what a lot of HP is doing with its platform strategy was not lost on him. "It did come as a nasty shock," said Palmer, referring to the first time he heard that the Alpha chip would be discontinued, "but if there will be no performance advantage in the future to justify the cost then it makes sense, and we are now able to see a way ahead."

In the future, said Palmer, he will be able to run Windows, Linux and OpenVMS on HP's Superdome servers. "So it turns out the processors will be Itaniums," he said with a shrug. "I really don't care [so long as the operating systems run]. It will help as more Tru64 features find their way into HP-UX [HP's flavour of Unix]."

By the end of the year, said HP's Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for industry standard servers, customers will be able to run OpenVMS on Itanium. Although the company does not publicise the fact, customers can already buy Itanium systems with a pre-release version of OpenVMS 8.1.

Customers such as Palmer may be able to see a way ahead, but on Wednesday morning it was by all accounts still a little fuzzy. "We run a lot of critical systems on VMS and Tru64, and we'll keep those for several years yet," Palmer noted. "After that I don't know. But if all this adaptive enterprise stuff means taking what you want, then maybe it's going to be a good thing."

The adaptive enterprise was not lost on everyone at the conference. "I understand exactly what it means," said Stefan Beyler, chief information officer at German clothing design house s.Oliver. "It is about how businesses can better work with IT. Normally IT slows down business processes, but this shows how it should work. How does a business manage IT? That's the problem."

Beyler said HP does help him: "I have my own strategy, and (what HP is saying) looks exactly the same. That helps a lot – I’m thinking this is my strategy. It’s great."

But even Beyler admitted to harbouring some doubts about HP’s own understanding of its jargon. "Last year it was all about IT service management, but there was not a single presentation on that this year. The adaptive enterprise just seems like a new idea placed on top of the old one." As far as Beyler is concerned, HP’s adaptive enterprise strategy is exactly the same as IBM's Business on Demand strategy.

"And if you ask five people at HP what the adaptive enterprise means, you’ll get five different answers. It’s just the same at IBM."