What does HP think it’s doing?

The recent confusion over whether HP would remain a public cloud provider illustrates how cloudy its strategic planning has been

hp headquarters palo alto
LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Winston Churchill once said of Russia, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Now, I don’t deal with international politics. I just write about technology. But when I’ve looked at HP lately I’ve been left thinking of its strategy as, well, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

What prompted this thought was HP’s recent public cloud dance. First, it seemed that HP, as far as The New York Times and anyone else who followed up on the story could tell, was going to walk away from the public cloud.

Why? Because, Bill Hilf, HP’s senior vice president for HP Cloud, said, “We thought people would rent or buy computing from us. It turns out that it makes no sense for us to go head-to-head.” It sure sounded like HP had looked at the idea of taking on Amazon Web Services, Google Compute, Microsoft Azure, etc. and decided there wasn’t enough business left for the company to make a go of it.

That wasn’t to say that HP was giving up on its OpenStack-based Helion cloud program or its cloud hardware, such as its new, inexpensive cloud line. No, it just seemed that HP had decided to cut its losses before putting more than a toe into the highly competitive public cloud market.

Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

Then, a few days later, Hilf said that “a quote of mine in the media was interpreted as HP is exiting the public cloud, which is not the case.

That still struck me as a little ... unclear, so I asked HP for a bit more light on the subject. HP PR replied, “Bill’s quote was interpreted as HP is exiting the public cloud, which is not the case. HP’s commitment to its cloud strategy remains unchanged since our launch of HP Helion nearly one year ago.”

So, HP is still in the public cloud business. I guess it’s just not going to be in the cloud business as much as its biggest rivals are?

I really don’t know. Is it having trouble getting OpenStack to scale? I like OpenStack a lot, but no one who really works with it will tell you that deploying it is easy. Or is HP still figuring out what to do with the other big-time, open-source cloud company it bought, Eucalyptus?

I thought that HP acquiring Eucalyptus was an odd move at the time. Seven months later, I still don’t know what to make of it. I like Eucalyptus’ people, but making its CEO, Marten Mickos, head of HP’s OpenStack-centric Helion cloud? It’s a head-scratcher.

It’s not just the cloud. I really don’t know what to make of many of HP’s recent moves.

It’s been eight months now since HP announced it was going to split itself into two. You’d think by now we’d be closer to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, with its enterprise hardware, software, cloud and services business, and HP Inc., with PCs and printers. Funny, I don’t see many signs that that’s actually happening.

All of this reminds me of 2011, when HP was going to bail out on the PC. That was at the same time that HP had made a 180-degree turn and left the webOS tablet and smartphone business. We had every reason to believe that there would be no more HP PCs. Instead, as Michael Dell was quick to jab, “If HP spins off their PC business ... maybe they will call it Compaq?”

It was funny then, but HP’s constant shift of focus isn’t funny anymore.

In the last five years, HP has had four CEOs. Mark Hurd, Cathie Lesjak, Leo Apotheker and Meg Whitman. That’s too many.

Except that (please, don’t hit me) it might be time for yet another CEO. I was never impressed with how Whitman handled eBay’s acquisition of PayPal back in 2002. And what was the reasoning behind eBay paying $2.6 billion for Skype?

Both she and HP are back to making odd acquisitions. The company still doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be one business or two. And there seems to be confusion in the ranks about exactly what role HP plans for its cloud offerings.

HP, enough of buying companies and toying with attention-grabbing stratagems like splitting up. What you really need is to settle on one strategic plan and follow it. Stop being a mystery, HP. Your customers and stockholders will both appreciate it.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
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