HPE: I really want to believe, but you make it so hard

I've had a tenuous relationship with the company now known as HPE over the years. This week's news of a spin-off and merge doesn't make that any easier.

First the news: HPE, the relatively new company that itself was the creation of the cleaving of Hewlett-Packard's printer and other businesses, is undergoing yet another change. After a series of HPE divestments, the company announced yesterday that it is planning on spinning off its "non-core" software assets and merging them with Micro Focus.

In terms of the structure, HPE will receive $2.5 billion in cash and its shareholders will own 50.1% of the new company, in a deal which is valued at $8.8 billion.

HPE's somewhat embattled CEO, Meg Whitman, is saying that the deal is an "important step" and part of HPE’s strategy to "unlock a faster growing, higher margin, stronger cash flow company." Well, she would say that.

Included in the spin-out are HPE's Application Delivery Management, Big Data, Enterprise Security, Information Management & Governance and IT Operations Management businesses. In terms of products, that is a list which includes (take a deep breath): ALH, AppPulse, IDOL, Vertica, HPE Haven, Fortify, ArcSight, Atalla, Voltage Security, Digital Safe, Data Protector, Service Manager, Service Anywhere, Data Center Automation and Cloud Orchestration. Whew.

Bear in mind that this deal follows only a few months after HPE spun off and sold its enterprise services division.


My God, HPE, you make it incredibly hard to be positive about what you do. (Full disclosure: HPE has covered my travel expenses to attend its conferences over the years, and a company I was involved in some years ago was acquired by a company that sold some IP to HPE more recently -- that's a tenuous connection and I carry zero bias from that.)

My relationship with this company has been difficult. I’ve been covering it for years and have been frustrated at its on-again, off-again eternally vacillating approach toward IT modernization generally and cloud specifically -- HP's cloud offering was launched, relaunched, re-branded and end-of-lifed innumerable times.

And every time HPE got a new leader on board who seemed to understand where its future lay, they quickly disappeared. The company acquired private cloud vendor Eucalyptus and inherited its legendary CEO, Marten Mickos. He lasted five minutes and then departed. And, most recently, hugely respected leader Bill Hilf left the organization amid yet another reshuffle.

And so, with this move, the last vestiges of HPE being an important player in the software space have gone. What is left is essentially a hardware vendor -- pushing servers and converged infrastructure -- with a smattering of software products that sit on top of that, HPE's OpenStack cloud operating initiatives and Cloud Foundry-based product. But sitting inside a business which is emphatically a hardware business, I can't see those products getting much oxygen.

Frankly, this frustrates the hell out of me. The future (at least to me) is so blindingly clear: Hardware doesn't matter, infrastructure is being commoditized as software services over the top become enables of organizational agility and innovation. HPE, with this move, has set itself up for future irrelevance. I've spent a long time wanting to believe, and I feel bad being so brutal in my assessment. But there is no malice here, merely a sinking feeling of disbelief and despair.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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