HP's high-end strategy gets adaptive

The computing giant outlines a new plan for targeting large corporate customers.
update SAN JOSE, Calif.--Hewlett-Packard has reshaped its computing strategy for large businesses, joining competitors that are trying to sell computing power that can self-repair and rapidly increase with demand.

As expected, the company on Tuesday unveiled a strategy dubbed Adaptive Enterprise that incorporates a new set of products and services intended to help companies get more out of their information technology investment.

HP's plan repackages several existing services and products while adding a few new ones. With it, customers can access computing resources that will be able to automatically diagnose and repair problems, as well as respond quickly to spikes in demand.

"It is an ability to react to unexpected change that frequently separates the winners from the losers," HP Chief Executive Carly Fiorina said at a news conference here. "Those that are most successful are those that can foresee change, react to change (and) use change as an opportunity to advance."

HP wants to enable change but not force it. The Adaptive Enterprise plan "does not require companies to throw everything out and start over," Fiorina said.

While HP's plan may sound ambitious, some analysts said it was more about marketing than innovation. Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said, "There wasn't a lot of product information here."

HP's move comes as information technology budgets are under increased pressure as businesses grapple with a stagnant economy. HP's rivals such as IBM, meanwhile, have been recasting their product and service lineups in hopes of maintaining old customers and winning new ones.

HP also played up the customer side on Tuesday, announcing that it has finalized a US$3 billion outsourcing deal with Procter & Gamble and signed separate agreements with Alcatel, GCI Group, Kinnect and Sprint.

At the event, Filippo Passerine, global business services officer for P&G, said adaptability is essential when acquiring new companies or entering new markets. "For us, flexibility is the name of the game."

Let's get virtual
Meanwhile, plans for mutable computing infrastructure also are under way at IBM, Sun Microsystems, Veritas, Microsoft and Computer Associates. A key element of all these initiatives is "virtualization," which isolates programs from the hardware they're using. Virtualization makes it easier to move tasks from one machine to another, to bring new equipment online or to increase the resources allocated to a particular task.

"The computing industry has moved forward over time by moving technology to the next higher level of abstraction," said IDC analyst Chris Willard. Each time that happens, the technology is available to a larger group of people. Virtualization is now "well into the early-adopter stage and is beginning to make it into the majority," he said.

The launch of Adaptive Enterprise comes a year after the company's merger with Compaq Computer and less than a week after an internal reorganization. On Friday, HP shuffled the jobs of several executives in its Enterprise Systems Group, the unit that handles servers, storage and software. It combined server and storage groups under Senior Vice President Scott Stallard, while creating a new unit aimed at more tightly linking sales and services and another unit focused on operations.

"It is not an accident that we are choosing today to launch the Adaptive Enterprise...The reason we can speak with such confidence (of these technologies) is because we have used them all" in consummating the Compaq merger, Fiorina said.

To promote the concept, HP said it will launch an ad campaign targeting chief information officers that will account for up to 25 percent of the US$400 million the company is spending on its overall "+HP" campaign.

Services with a smile
The Palo Alto, Calif., company's new professional services are designed for businesses looking for effective ways to plan computer networks and software upgrades, to put them into operation and then to measure their success.

The services center on HP's new Darwin Reference Architecture, which provides a framework around which businesses can build IT infrastructures meant to adjust more easily and more quickly to changing needs, the company said. The framework includes a set of design principles from HP, but it's based on standard products including hardware and software from HP itself and from companies such as networking heavyweight Cisco Systems and database software maker Oracle.

While much of HP's Adaptive Infrastructure technology is yet to be developed, services are arriving sooner. One is the agility assessment, which costs US$25,000 for a two-week evaluation by HP, said services chief Ann Livermore. In the evaluation, HP determines a company's flexibility, finds where adopting more flexibility would have the greatest financial effect and prescribes actions to make those changes, Livermore said.

Analyst Brookwood said the service harkens back to HP's roots as a maker of test and measurement gear.

"They've kind of drifted away from that, but it sounds like they are coming back," Brookwood said. HP in 1999 spun off Agilent Technologies, a unit that made testing equipment for the medical, scientific and semiconductor industries.

Brookwood noted that agility is a rather fuzzy concept and that if HP could measure it, "that could be a very positive contribution."

Hardware and software launches on Tuesday included the HP Virtual Server Environment, a new Unix server application that allows companies to monitor and balance their server resources based on a set of priorities for their business needs.

Healing hands
HP also issued an update to provide self-healing capabilities to its OpenView software, which businesses use to manage computers. Self-healing would allow OpenView to monitor developing problems and suggest corrective actions to an IT staff.

Nora Denzel, whose OpenView software line at HP is a key underpinning of the Adaptive Enterprise plan, said HP plans new technology to fulfill the HP's promises. "It is software that makes these enterprises adaptable," she said in an interview.

HP will expand its management software abilities through internal development, acquisition and partnership, she said.

Finally, as expected, HP also rolled out new ProLiant blade servers, part of its BL20p family, outfitted with Intel's 3.06GHz Xeon chip.

With a single 3.06GHz processor, a 36GB SCSI hard drive and 512MB of RAM, the blade starts at US$3,888, according to HP's Web site. With a pair of the chips, 1GB of RAM and an additional 36GB SCSI drive, the price rises to US$5,862. Blade servers are smaller servers that fit into an enclosure, allowing a large number of them to be centrally located.

Altogether, the new products reflect the increasing interconnectedness of corporate operations and technological capabilities, the company said.

"We operate in a world where every business decision triggers a series of IT events," Shane Robison, HP's chief technology officer, said in a statement. "The link between business and IT has never been more essential, nor has it ever been more complex. We believe that it's time to aggressively drive the evolution toward a new enterprise architecture that removes the vertical silos of automation built up over the years and replaces it over time with a flexible, modular, standards-based architecture where business changes can be executed effectively and transactions and information can flow freely."

Big Blue's clues
IBM, meanwhile, has already launched its own approach to helping large companies better use their technology. Big Blue will plow US$10 billion into its new strategy, dubbed On Demand, which seeks to help companies build their IT infrastructure in such a way that they can tap computing resources as they would a utility like electricity. Since unveiling the On Demand strategy in November, IBM has introduced a torrent of products, ranging from new software and services to grid computing initiatives.

IBM has also announced several multibillion-dollar outsourcing deals, including a seven-year, US$5 billion contract with J.P. Morgan Chase and a 10-year, US$2 billion outsourcing deal with auto-parts manufacturer Visteon.

Meanwhile, Sun has unveiled a similar strategy, called N1.

Like N1, HP's strategy focuses on making better use of existing computing resources such as servers and storage devices. HP said it will introduce "virtualization" software, which lets companies pool the capabilities of servers or storage systems.

HP competitor Computer Associates International is also upgrading its Unicenter systems management software to optimize computing resources and to automatically diagnose and repair network problems.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.
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