One year on from its acquisition of Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard mapped out its plans for the future yesterday.
HP's "adaptive enterprise" strategy touches all aspects of its software, services and hardware portfolio. Emphasising automatic management, straightforward integration, and architectural flexibility, the approach echoes moves made lately by several of HP's rivals, most notably IBM, which has been pursing a similar strategy -"on-demand computing" - for months.
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In a play on IBM's tagline "e-business on demand", HP chief executive officer Carly Fiorina claimed that her company's adaptive strategy is about demanding more.
"The truth is technology should be, and can be, understood in terms of the results it delivers," she said. "It has to yield to the demands of business."
HP's strategy centres around a reference architecture, called Darwin, designed to integrate business processes with virtually every enterprise product, service and standard that HP supports - everything from J2EE to .net, to software from PeopleSoft and SAP.
"The goal is to have infrastructure that is standardised and modularised and integrated," said Fiorina.
Fiorina added that the challenges in merging the two companies' operations had made HP stronger. "Like evolution, it's how a company reacts and responds and adapts to change that's the difference between competitive vulnerability and competitive success."
She claimed that some of the ideas behind Darwin were developed within HP as the company struggled to integrate the infrastructure of 1,200 networked sites, 7,000 applications and 21,671 servers that the merger created.
"Change presents opportunities," she said. "We are bringing to market the distillation of the integration experience that we have been through."
Fiorina added that since the merger, HP had reduced its own IT costs by almost a quarter. "This is what we mean by demand more."
An array of partners have lined up to support HP, including Accenture, BEA Systems, BearingPoint, Cisco Systems, Deloitte Consulting, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel Systems. With the goal of simplifying systems management and integration at the heart of its message, company executives say partnering will be key to carrying out HP's vision.
As part of yesterday's event, HP announced 15 products and services supporting its adaptive enterprise push. Among the software offerings are HP Virtual Server Environment, a virtualisation tool powered by an enhanced version of HP-UX Workload Manager.
This software, available now as part of HP's Mission Critical version of HP-UX, lets HP machines band together and add or reduce the number of processors they are using, depending on application requirements.
"The server gets bigger or smaller, depending on your workload," said HP director of utility computing Nick van der Zweep.
HP also announced Software Self-healing Services for HP OpenView, which are intended to expand the dynamic allocation and troubleshooting capabilities of HP's network management software.
The self-healing services features will first be available for HP's OpenView Operations and Network Node Manager, and will roll out over time throughout the entire OpenView line.
Within the next 12 months, HP will introduce adaptive-enterprise-themed enhancements in the areas of virtualisation, automatic provisioning, business impact analysis, service-level agreements, dynamic deployment and maintenance of management functions, policy-based IT flexibility, and service lifecycle management.
Embedding itself deeply within its customers' IT infrastructures is part of HP's game plan, and in launching its new vision, the company made sure to highlight one of its biggest wins a $3bn (£1.8bn), 10-year managed services contract with Procter & Gamble.
Approximately 2,000 P&G employees from 48 countries will become part of HP Services when the agreement commences on 1 August, pending regulatory approvals.
The P&G deal is one of more than 200 managed services contracts HP has signed since acquiring Compaq.
HP's rivals were quick to cast the company's "adaptive enterprise" campaign as a marketing manoeuvre posing as an operating strategy.
"This is a repackaging of what we've seen come out over the last few months," said Sun Microsystems manager of competitive strategy Paul Phillips, adding that HP was aping IBM by putting "a big banner out there they can later put anything they do underneath".
Sun has also been emphasising a simplified, flexible approach to IT management through its N1 initiative. While Sun took a "clean slate" approach to fashioning N1, HP is shaping its strategy around its existing OpenView line, according to Phillips.
"Our take on it is they are applying a somewhat old software technology and methodology to what is a newer problem."
Computer Associates International, which spoke last week of its own commitment to on-demand computing and related additions to its Unicenter line of management software, said HP is too focused on its own proprietary technology.
"It's obvious that HP's primary support is for HP. We don't see any plans for their Virtual Server Environment to support any non-HP platforms," said David Hochhauser, CA's vice president of Unicenter marketing.
"Customers who also have IBM or Sun servers are going to have to look to platform-neutral vendors like CA."
HP's plan is to extend the Virtual Server Environment to the Windows and Linux operating systems, although an HP spokeswoman said no timeframe was out yet on when the extension will be available.
"This is our party, we set the table two years ago," said Doug Frederick, executive vice president of Services supplier Electronic Data Services. "Hardware vendors are pushing utility computing on their terms, their hardware."
While HP executives claimed yesterday to be 18 months ahead of the rest of the industry in implementing a true virtual datacentre, analysts at the event said that in reality the differences between HP and competitors like IBM are far less dramatic.
"It's almost like an arms race," said Forrester Research vice president Bill Martorelli. "These things are long on vision. ... If you want to remain viable as a large-scale supplier of IT, you have to put together a road map first."