HP, Microsoft Buddy Up for Cloud Computing

The manufacturing floor where HP assembles custom gear for data centers

Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) and Microsoft Corp. (s msft) today said the two companies would invest $250 million over the next three years to link Microsoft software with HP gear and sell it as one. The two have committed to what they call the infrastructure-to-application model with an eye to establishing both companies as big players in cloud computing. As the cloud gains in prominence, and is increasingly seen as the next-generation computing model, hardware, software and networking companies are buddying up to create a data center that runs like a computer.

So this announcement is HP’s and Microsoft’s strategy for taking on Cisco’s (s csco) servers and its alliance with VMware (s vmw), but it’s also a blow to companies without such partnerships, primarily Dell (s dell) (Related from GigaOM Pro, subscription req’d: With UCS And VCE, Has Cisco Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew?). As for IBM (s ibm), it has tried and true services, software and hardware expertise from which to draw. So what’s under the hood in the HP-Microsoft partnership?

  • Unifying and incenting a sales channel to sell HP-Microsoft gear.
  • HP won’t stop offering other hypervisors but it will have a cadre of salespeople dedicated to pushing Microsoft’s Hyper-V.
  • Like it did with Oracle, HP is going to build hardware specially optimized for Microsoft applications including an SQL server. HP declined to talk about what this means for its work with Oracle (s orcl), but since Oracle now is selling its database appliance built on Sun hardware, my guess is that partnership was doomed when Oracle said it would acquire Sun.
  • Microsoft will use HP gear in its Azure cloud.
  • The two will combine R&D forces to build out the future data center, which will be built around containers and will be optimized to run efficiently depending on the application.

Some quick thoughts here that I will explore later today on a call with HP and Microsoft: Efforts such as this one and Cisco’s tie-up with VMware and EMC (S emc) concern me, as they seem to indicate that the big players are using cloud computing as an excuse to partner with one another. In creating optimized systems of the type that Microsoft and HP will focus on, the danger of vendor lock-in rises. Is optimization becoming code for proprietary?

Behind these optimization efforts is the holy grail for information technology, which is creating a data center that is aware of an application and can deliver exactly the performance required for a specific task and no more. This saves on power costs and also implies that we’ve achieved some type of real-time information and automation that make data centers run like a computer, rather than like a gaggle of servers networked together with Ethernet and duct tape.

But given the concerns about openness between clouds, the optimization efforts of these large vendors seem troubling. Now, your HP gear will be optimized for Microsoft’s proprietary Hyper-V virtualization instead of open Xen. That’s not to say HP’s management software won’t be able to run in heterogeneous environments,  or that other hypervisors won’t run on its gear — HP CEO Mark Hurd was at pains to say it will — but that companies running those environments may take a performance or efficiency hit.

Regardless, the cloud is shaking up the traditional corporate IT market and Microsoft and HP are trying to figure out their own ways of putting their respective selves on top. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two started working together on this project back in April, which is when Cisco finally unveiled its server plans. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on the call gave his definition of cloud computing, which basically brings all of this home, “The cloud means a modern architecture for how you build and deploy applications.”