HP eyes new architecture for corporate PCs

Hewlett-Packard Co. would like to marry its forward-looking “adaptive enterprise” strategy with an IT vision that’s a blast from buzzwords past: thin-client computing.

As part of its drive to steal share in the market for commercial PCs from Dell Computer Corp., HP wants to redefine traditional notions of how to best provision office workers with their own systems, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer Shane Robison said Tuesday, during a presentation at an HP meeting in New York with financial analysts.

HP has an initiative under way to enable customers to move key PC functions, such as running applications and storing associated data, off desktops and into the data centre, Robison said. Administrators could centrally manage their users’ applications and information, which HP envisions improving security, reliability and flexibility, while lowering costs through streamlined administration. Users would no longer be tied to a primary machine, and could access their own set-ups through a variety of devices, including handhelds, laptops and stripped-down workstations.

The notion of using basic computers rather than full-featured PCs to tap into a centrally run IT system isn’t new. Several vendors, most notably Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., heavily evangelized the concept in the mid-’90s.

So why should a thin-client architecture take off now when it didn’t then? HP points to its hardware, software and services portfolio of emerging technologies focused on increasing the flexibility of corporate IT systems. The company is one of a number of top vendors – including IBM, Computer Associates International Inc. and Sun – to declare enabling standards-based, agile IT its top strategic priority.

HP’s new desktop architecture could be built around its OpenView management software and run on its blade servers, Robison said. Blades are thin, rack-mounted servers containing little more than microprocessors and memory.

The design could cut PC support costs 70 per cent, and lower the four-year total ownership costs of corporate PCs by 40 per cent, Robison estimated. But the project remains a nascent one: Robison offered no timeline on when customers could expect to begin seeing deliverables from the initiative.

HP executives used the meeting to spotlight other current products and projects, including the Darwin reference architecture it introduced last month while unveiling its Adaptive Enterprise campaign. Darwin is a blueprint for using software, services and standard components to build well-integrated IT architectures. Customers are responding enthusiastically to Darwin, and to HP’s focus on flexibility and integration, several executives said.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina said HP’s integration of Compaq Computer Corp. is essentially complete and has already generated US$3.5 billion in annual savings from combined operations. HP is on track to meet analyst forecasts for US$17.5 billion in revenue during its ongoing quarter, which ends July 31, Fiorina said.

With its broad product range and the bulk in the market it reached through its acquisition of Compaq, HP has the diversity, balance and stability needed to continue meeting expectations despite the rough economy, she said. “Some would say our breadth is a distraction. I would say the breadth of our portfolio is our secret sauce,” Fiorina said.