HP hints at new software strategy

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to announce a new software roadmap next month that will provide information on its plan to marry a variety of disparate product lines, according to a top executive at the company.

HP will kick off the next wave of its software strategy by providing an architecture for the ways in which its popular OpenView management software can be linked tightly with software used in its Utility Data Center (UDC) architecture for network management, said Nora Denzel, senior vice-president of HP’s software business unit, in a Monday interview. Along with this new technology, HP will announce new partnerships with software vendors and new services for its telecommunications customers.

“In November, you will see a complete roadmap unveiled,” Denzel said. “There will be…software and services from HP and partners that will arrive.”

Like IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., HP has embarked on a long-term project to make it easier to manage large data centres. All three vendors want to pool hundreds of servers and storage systems and give administrators one view of an entire network. HP calls this vision “adaptive infrastructure” and sees its UDC architecture as one tool for achieving it.

Along with developing this type of network mapping technology, HP has worked to strengthen its OpenView management software, which checks on the health of a wide variety of hardware. HP now appears ready to join pieces of OpenView with its UDC technology to create a large, over-arching management suite. The company expects to roll out products that fit into this vision over the next few years, Denzel said.

A clear software vision from HP would be a welcome change, according to one analyst.

“HP has had a mixed story,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H. “There has really been a grab bag of pieces that have made up their virtualization story.”

Part of the confusion surrounding HP’s software stems from the company’s acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. earlier this year. After the deal closed, HP announced it would drop a large chunk of its middleware product line and partner with Microsoft Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. for application server technology instead. This strategy forces HP to give up some control of the middleware software stack that Sun and IBM still have, Haff said.

However, Denzel contended that the move toward Microsoft and BEA helps the company build on the strengths of pre-merger HP in the Java world and of Compaq in the .Net world.

“As time shifts, your strategy should shift,” Denzel said. “We think application servers will be heavily commoditized. They are just a feature of the OS.”

The potential gaps in its middleware strategy and lack of a unified architecture for its management products have triggered doubts about HP’s software story, Haff said.

“Software remains a gaping hole at HP,” he said. “HP’s software strategy is really management, and it’s really OpenView. I, and I think many others, remain skeptical of their abilities to fill in all the missing pieces with partners. IBM and Sun are more masters of their own destiny with respect to software.”

With its November announcement, HP should make some headway toward answering these questions. The company will bring out more software partners to prove that it can pull off the union of UDC and OpenView.

Haff expects the company to present a way for OpenView to sit on top of the UDC technology. This would allow administrators to check on individual servers and form refined pictures of the systems’ health. It would also allow administrators to see all the hardware on the network in a single view.

HP already includes “a piece of OpenView” with its UDC technology, Denzel said. The company will simply be drawing closer ties between the two management architectures.