Hewlett-Packard hopes its focus on private clouds -- and its investment of muscle and money in the technology -- can convince enterprise IT executives that it can provide a secure way to enter the fray.
Three years after it vowed to become a major cloud vendor, HP on Wednesday unveiled Helion, a set of products and services designed to help enterprises set up private clouds, and disclosed that it's using OpenStack, a NASA-derived open source cloud operating system.
HP executives also committed to investing more than $1 billion over the next two years in research and development to extend the Helion portfolio and build new cloud data centers and staff them.
"We are living in a period of enormous change," HP President and CEO Meg Whitman told reporters. "Open source is enabling an entire industry to build solutions that solve problems. The result is something that is more flexible and secure than any company could deliver alone."
HP is targeting Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft -- companies that are already strong cloud players. The company says its focus on private clouds, and thus on security for large enterprises that want to take advantage of the cloud's scalability and other features, and be able to touch and look after their own data, will provide a competitive edge.
At this point, there are plenty of vendors that can help enterprises build their own cloud systems, but most are small, new businesses. HP believes it has an advantage as a tech industry giant, but it's a big player in a relatively small pond.
"Server huggers will be interested in this," said Gartner analyst Lydia Leong, referring to "those organizations that want to build and run things themselves. IT administrators may have objections to the public cloud. They don't trust what they don't control. There are reasons to build it yourself."
By spending $1 billion on its cloud effort, HP is gearing up to be a major player, though already established cloud vendors, like Google and Amazon have been spending that kind of money -- more, actually -- for some time.
Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said HP's $1 billion expenditure is probably 20% to 25% of what Google and Amazon are spending every year on their cloud businesses. Nonetheless, he said the HP cloud plan could be a threat to those companies.
"It's a threat to everybody," said Kagan. "Every move that every competitor makes at this point is a threat because you don't know who will be leading a year from now or five years from now. There are a lot of companies getting in the cloud."
"This is a matter of what do companies want? Do they want to set it up on their own? Do they want to just rent space and have someone else take care of it? There's no right or wrong. It's just a different approach," he added.
Many enterprises will base their decisions on which solution can significantly cut their anxiety about cloud computing performance, security and other issues.