Business · CIO · Cloud · Data

HPE clarifies their new role in the enterprise

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Last week, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) held their annual US-based Discover conference in Las Vegas. HPE has seen quite a bit of change in the past year with the split of HP into HPE & HP Inc. They shut down their Helion Public Cloud offering and announced the divestiture of their Enterprise Services (ES) business to merge with CSC into a $26B business. With all of the changes and 10,000 people in attendance, HPE sought to clarify their strategy and position in the enterprise market.

WHAT IS IN AND WHAT IS OUT?

Many of the questions attendees were asking circled around the direction HPE was taking considering all of the changes just in the past year alone. Two of the core changes (shutting down Helion Public Cloud and splitting off their ES business) have raised many eyebrows wondering if HPE might be cutting off their future potential.

While HPE telegraphs that their strategy is to support customers with their ‘digital transformation’ journey, the statement might be a bit overreaching. That is not to say that HPE is not capable of providing value to enterprises. It is to say that there are specific aspects that they do provide value and yet a few significant gaps. We are talking about a traditional hardware-focused company shifting more and more toward software. Not a trivial task.

There are four pillars that support the core HPE offering for enterprises. Those include Infrastructure, Analytics, Cloud and Software.

INFRASTRUCTURE AT THE CORE

HPE’s strength continues to rest on their ability to innovate in the infrastructure space. I wrote about their Moonshot and CloudSystem offerings three years ago here. Last year, HPE introduced their Synergy technology that supports composability. Synergy, and the composable concept, is one of the best opportunities to address the evolving enterprise’s changing demands. I delve a bit deeper into the HPE composable opportunity here.

Yet, one thing is becoming painfully clear within the industry. The level of complexity for infrastructure is growing exponentially. For any provider to survive, there needs to be a demonstrable shift toward leveraging software that manages the increasingly complex infrastructure. HPE is heading in that direction with their OneView platform.

Not to be outdone in supporting the ever-changing software platform space, HPE also announced that servers will come ready to support Docker containers. This is another example of where HPE is trying to bridge the gap between traditional infrastructure and newer application architectures including cloud.

CLOUD GOES PRIVATE

Speaking of cloud, there is quite a bit of confusion where cloud fits in the HPE portfolio of solutions. After a number of conversations with members of the HPE team, their solutions are focused on one aspect of cloud: Private Cloud. This makes sense considering HPE’s challenges to reach escape velocity with their Helion Public Cloud offering and core infrastructure background. Keep in mind that HPE’s private cloud solutions are heavily based on OpenStack. This will present a challenge for those considering a move from their legacy VMware footprint. But does open the door to new application architectures that are specifically looking for an OpenStack-based Private Cloud. However, there is already competition in this space from companies like IBM (BlueBox) and Microsoft (AzureStack). And unlike HPE, both IBM & Microsoft have established Public Cloud offerings that complement their Private Cloud solutions (BlueBox & Azure respectively).

One aspect in many of the discussions was how HPE’s Technical Services (TS) are heavily involved in HPE Cloud deployments. At first, this may present a red flag for many enterprises concerned with the level of consulting services required to deploy a solution. However, when considering that the underpinnings are OpenStack-based, it makes more sense. OpenStack, unlike traditional commercial software offerings, still requires a significant amount of support to get it up and running. This could present a challenge to broad appeal of HPE’s cloud solutions except for those few that understand, and can justify, the value proposition.

It does seem that HPE’s cloud business is still in a state of flux and finding the best path to take. With the jettison of Helion Public Cloud and HPE’s support of composability, there is a great opportunity to appeal to the masses and leverage their partnership with Microsoft to support Azure & AzureStack on a Synergy composable stack. Yet, the current focus appears to still focus on OpenStack based solutions. Note: HPE CloudSystem does support Synergy via the OneView APIs.

SOFTWARE

At the conference, HPE highlighted their security solutions with a few statistics. According to HPE, they “secure nine of the top 10 software companies, all 10 telcos and all major branches of the US Department of Defense (DoD).” While those are interesting statistics, one should delve a bit further to determine how extensive this applies.

Security sits alongside the software group’s Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Operations and BigData software solutions. As time goes on, I would hope to see HPE mature the significance of their software business to meet the changing demands from enterprises.

THE GROWTH OF ANALYTICS

Increasingly, enterprise organizations are growing their dependence on data. A couple of years back, HP (prior to the HPE/ HP Inc split) purchased Autonomy and Vertica. HPE continues to mature their combined Haven solution beyond addressing BigData into the realm of Machine Learning. That that end, HPE now is offering Haven On-Demand (http://www.HavenOnDemand.com) for free. Interestingly, the solution leverages HPE’s partnership with Microsoft and is running on Microsoft’s Azure platform.

IN SUMMARY

HPE is bringing into focus those aspects they believe they can do well. The core business is still focused on infrastructure, but also supporting software (mostly for IT focused functions), cloud (OpenStack focused) and data analytics. After the dust settles on the splits and shifts, the largest opportunities for HPE appear to come from infrastructure (and related software), and data analytics. The other aspects of the business, while valuable, support a smaller pool of prospective customers.

Ultimately, time will tell how this strategy plays out. I still believe there is an untapped potential from HPE’s Synergy composable platform that will appeal to the masses of enterprises, but is often missed. Their data analytics strategy appears to be gaining steam and moving forward. These two offerings are significant, but only provide for specific aspects in an enterprises digital transformation.

CIO · Cloud

Microsoft Azure Stack fills a major gap for enterprise hybrid cloud

Azure Stack is billed as a version of Azure that runs in your corporate data center. Originally announced on May 4, 2015, Microsoft Azure Stack presented a significant change to the enterprise cloud spectrum of options. Prior to Azure Stack, enterprises looking for a private cloud option were left to build their own. While possible, not a trivial feat for most enterprises.

Today, Microsoft announced availability of their Technical Preview 1 (TP1); a series of planned technical previews leading up to Azure Stack’s General Availability later in 2016.

 

Azure Map

A PRIVATE CLOUD FOR ENTERPRISES

Azure Stack represents an on premise version of Microsoft’s Azure public cloud that runs in your corporate data center. If you are familiar with Azure, you are already familiar with Azure Stack.

Unlike many solutions that start small and scale up, Microsoft was challenged with the opposite problem; to scale down Azure. Azure Stack is essentially a scaled down version of Azure and the code between the two versions of Azure is remarkably similar. The further up the stack, the more similar the code base gets. For developers, this means a more consistent experience between Azure and Azure Stack.

Many enterprise customers are hesitant or incapable of making the leap from workloads on premise to full-on public cloud. Those reasons range from cultural resistance to regulatory considerations. Azure Stack provides a solution that fills the gap between full-on public cloud (Azure) and the prospect of creating a private cloud from scratch. Moreover, because of the consistent experience, customers are able to develop applications on Azure Stack and then move them fairly seamlessly to Azure. Many of the services are similar between the solutions, however, there are some obvious differences inherent to public vs. private cloud.

For now, Microsoft has drawn the line with Azure to focus on the Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud tiers. That may be true for Azure, however, Microsoft continues to grow their SaaS based solutions such as Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft stated that they are in the process of moving Microsoft 365 to Azure. It is anticipated that traditional enterprise core services such as Microsoft SQL server in addition to newer solutions like Internet of Things (IoT) will move to Azure in the form of a deployable ‘Template’.

It should not be minimized that the effort to move existing enterprise applications from their legacy footings is not a trivial effort. This is true for applications moving to Azure Stack, Azure, along with cloud solutions including Amazon AWS, Blue Box, and others.

 

Enterprise Cloud Map

THE KEY TO AZURE STACK LOCAL TARGET

The beauty of a local version of public cloud solutions is in its ability to sidestep many of the challenges that public cloud presents. In the case of regulatory or data privacy issues, Azure Stack provides the ability to leverage the benefits of cloud, while adhering to local regulatory issues surrounding location of data.

In the most simplistic form, one could consider Azure Stack another ‘Region’ in which to deploy applications. Microsoft’s management application, Azure Resource Manager (ARM) is able to deploy directly to Azure Stack as another target Region just as one would deploy to West US or East US. In the case of Azure Stack, the Region is Local. Customers do have the option to deploy internal (Local) Regions in a single zone or in separate zones.

DEVELOPING ON AZURE

One of the core benefits to Azure Stack is in the ability to build applications for Azure Stack (or Azure) and deploy them to either solution. Microsoft Visual Studio already has the ability to update locations in real-time from Azure and Azure Stack. The core of Azure deployments come in the form of a Template. There are already a number of Templates on GitHub for immediate download:

Quick Start ARM templates that deploy on Azure Stack: http://aka.ms/AzureStackGitHub

The Software Development Kit (SDK) for Azure Stack supports both PowerShell and Command Line Interface (CLI) just like Azure. In addition, deployment tools such as Chef and Puppet are supported via the ARM API to Azure Stack.

GETTING STARTED WITH AZURE STACK

While the download for Azure Stack TP1 will not be available until January 29th, there are a number of minimum requirements to get started. Keep in mind that this is the first Technical Preview of Azure Stack. As such, there is quite a bit of code to optimize for local use vs. the full Azure cloud. With Azure, the minimum configuration covered a full 20 racks! With Azure Stack, the minimum footprint has shrunk to a cluster of four systems with a maximum of 63 systems per cluster. Jeffrey Snover (Chief Architect, Microsoft Azure and Technical Fellow at Microsoft) outlined the minimum and recommended requirements in his blog post last month.

One may notice the Windows Server certification requirement. That is due to Azure Stack running on a base of Microsoft Windows Server. However, the Microsoft team believes that this will evolve over time. The memory requirements may also evolve. When running Azure Stack, the components take up approximately 24GB of RAM per system. While this may get optimized over time, additional components (such as clustering) may increase the memory consumption.

One may express concern at the very mention of a local cloud based on Windows Server. If anything, for the purposes of patching processes. Azure Stack is built to evacuate workloads off resources prior to patching. But Microsoft is looking at a wholly different approach to patching. Instead of applying the traditional Windows Server patches, Microsoft is looking to complete redeploy a new copy of Windows Server for the Azure Stack underpinnings. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

There are two ways to get started with Azure Stack:

  1. Do It Yourself: Leverage reference architectures from Dell, HP and others that list the parts needed to support Azure Stack.
  2. Integrated Systems: Purchase a fully assembled, standardized solution.

 

IN SUMMARY

Azure Stack presents a significant game changer for Microsoft and the Enterprise cloud spectrum by filling a gap long-since needed. There are a number of other benefits to both enterprises and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) that Azure Stack brings. We will leave those for a later post.

 

UPDATE: The download for Azure Stack TP1 is live. You can get it here.