HP Switches On Public Cloud, Thanks To OpenStack

The race to commoditize the OpenStack cloud operating system has a new entry, and Hewlett-Packard, one of the first backers of the open-source project, could soon be enjoying the spoils of victory. If it doesn't screw it up.

There is little evidence that yesterday's announced general release of HP Cloud Compute, which is based on OpenStack, is going to have problems, but it's a little hard to have confidence in HP in general given the stumbles the company has had lately. But this is one of the best signs in a while that the company is on a stable path.

Here's why: despite the hype surrounding OpenStack cloud computing, it is important to remember that there is no real commercial product available from OpenStack yet. OpenStack is an open-source software project, and even though everyone and their brother (like Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical and HP) are contributing to OpenStack, there has been, until now, only one other commercial implementation of OpenStack -- Rackspace's Open Cloud service.

Rackspace, though, had a distinct advantage over HP: it pretty much invented OpenStack and therefore had a big headstart. But that's all changed now.

HP's Cloud Compute software is based on just one part of the broader OpenStack ecosystem, the aptly-named OpenStack Compute, formally named Nova. Compute is the primary element of any infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model, and is the part of cloud computing that competes directly with Amazon Web Service's Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) platform.

HP Cloud Compute is a public cloud IaaS offering, much like AWS' EC2 and Rackspace's Open Cloud, and will compete for the same clientele. It's appropriate that HP is the first outside vendor to launch the commercial HP Cloud Compute platform -- after all, it was one of the earliest non-Rackspace vendors to jump on board the OpenStack bandwagon after Rackspace announced it would be opening the code.

An argument could be made that the OpenStack race is about over and it really is a three-way battle between CloudStack, AWS/Eucalyptus and OpenStack now that HP has pushed out this general release. But there are some key issues to consider.

First, as Sony learned with Betamax and Atari and Palm learned in general, being first to market isn't always the path to victory. How HP provides service and how it prices this new service will be a big factor in its success.

Right out of the gate, the prices look pretty good, starting at four cents per hour. More tellingly, the service level agreement promises 99.95% uptime. This is something AWS can do, too, but you have to configure your machines a certain way in order to qualify for this level of service.

Second, there are other players in this game that are coming up fast. Rackspace is already pushing OpenStack-based products, and Linux vendors Red Hat and SUSE are heads-down running toward the finish line. As operating-system vendors, could they have a better advantage than hardware-oriented HP in offering cloud services?

Not to mention that there's still a need to deploy a private-cloud option based on OpenStack. If you want to run OpenStack software inside your own firewall now, you have to spend days getting the systems configured, because there's no unified package to be downloaded and installed yet. Without that option, HP is just another AWS competitor in an increasingly crowded public-cloud sector.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on this, there's still the very real consideration that this is HP we're talking about.

Even putting aside recent missteps, it's going to take some work to convince customers that it can be a public-cloud company. If it works, it will be very good, because then they'll be able to sell hybrid- and private-cloud services a whole lot easier. But that transition of perception could still run aground with more fumbles by HP.

Still, HP is now in the game with a public-cloud offering, made possible by OpenStack. Even if they do nothing else, HP has just given AWS one more thing to worry about.