Whitman to kick off HP comeback tour

When Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) CEO Meg Whitman addresses a few thousand HP partners Wednesday there will be a lot on the line.

HP relied on a cadre of retailers, value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators to build it into a tech colossus, but the last few years of management turmoil at the company has taken its toll on those partners, not to mention the company itself. Suffice it to say that Whitman will be the third HP CEO to address the HP Americas Partner Conference (APC) in three years. Last year’s CEO keynoter, Leo Apotheker was fired by HP in September, less than a year into the job. His predecessor, Mark Hurd, was shown the door in August 2010.

Whitman is going retro — pushing for “a return to the egalitarian culture that legendary HP founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard fostered decades ago, known as ‘The HP Way,'” according to an interview in CRN. There she reiterated that HP, despite its $10.3 billion-plus acquisition of enterprise software company Autonomy — an Apotheker decision  — HP remains first and foremost a hardware company.

Hardware guy Dave Donatelli, kicked off APC Monday, unveiling new energy-efficient HP ProLiant Gen8 servers that come with HP Smart Update software and other automation smarts to boost energy efficiency and reduce the workload of system admins. Compared to the previous Gen7 server, for example, server updates that took hours per rack now take minutes, according to an HP spokeswoman.

On-board sensors detect fan speeds, power spikes and other data points to identify over-utilized servers based on their power use, workload and temperature data. This “3-D Sea of Sensor” technology will increase compute capacity per watt of energy by 70 percent, according to HP, and automates the entire process of shifting, throttling and de-throttling workloads.

The new servers are being used by a few beta customers now, with general availability slated for March. The servers are sold standalone or can be bundled with various HP storage and networking options as part of a converged infrastructure package.

And that’s not all. The company’s much-anticipated  “Project Moonshot” ARM- and Atom-based servers will be available in the second half of the year, said Donatelli, whose full title is EVP and general manager of enterprise storage, servers and networking (ESSN).

In other server news, IDG News reported that HP will also talk up new mobile apps that will enable system administrators to use their Apple iOS or Android(s goog) devices to remotely control and configure the new Gen8 servers. There was no mention of an analogous app for WebOS, the mobile operating system that HP decided to open source after jettisoning plans to build its own WebOS-based devices.

Partners at the big show hope that Whitman will turn the page on the recent turmoil. They understand why HP might — as Apotheker said last year — look to offload its big PC business, but universally they said the leak of that plan did huge damage to customer relationships. Many enterprises like to source PCs and servers from the same company, and that uncertainty caused them to look elsewhere — to Dell(s dell), to Lenovo, to Apple(s aapl) — as laptop or desktop PC options. Probably worse, it also spurred many to consider IBM(s ibm), Dell or Cisco(s csco) as alternative server suppliers.  Once that door is cracked open, it’s hard to slam shut, they said.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user marianodm