HP ups its cloud bet on OpenStack — and KVM

Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) is putting more of its chips on OpenStack as a key foundation for its upcoming public, private and hybrid cloud implementations. It’s an important endorsement for OpenStack, the open-source cloud platform launched two years ago by Rackspace(s rax) and NASA. HP’s also putting more weight behind the KVM hypervisor in what is seen as a swipe at VMware(s vmw).
OpenStack is still under development — the new Essex release debuted just last week — but several companies including Internap are running it in production. Commercial backers like HP, Dell(s dell), and Cisco(s csco) are putting their resources and expertise into their own OpenStack implementations. (Citrix is — or was — also a backer: last week it set up CloudStack as an OpenStack competitor.)
HP says it is providing “hardened” OpenStack technology, for example, although exactly what that means is unclear. Last fall, HP said it was building a public cloud based on OpenStack, but today’s news is a broader endorsement of the technology. “We are expanding OpenStack across our whole cloud portfolio,” Shane Pearson, VP of product marketing for HP Software, told me in an interview on Friday.
Meanwhile,  IBM(s ibm) and Red Hat(s rhat) — probably the two most notable OpenStack holdouts to this point — are expected to publicly disclose their OpenStack support this week or next at the OpenStack Spring Conference.

OpenStack as a weapon against AWS, VMware

Big IT companies like HP hope to use OpenStack to combat Amazon Web Services’ (s amzn) huge presence in the public cloud arena and to blunt VMware’s (s vmw) push to entrench its proprietary virtualization tool set — which already dominates in corporate data centers — as the de facto standard in cloud computing.
“It’s an interesting dance,” said Forrester Research(s forr) VP and analyst James Staten. Companies like IBM and HP feel they ceded control to VMware in the data center and don’t want to repeat that mistake. “The cloud is the next game and they’re saying ‘we gave up control in the last round, we won’t do it this time,'” he said.
The endorsement of KVM as opposed to VMware ESX hypervisor is part of that plan. “It’s a good long-term bet that KVM/OpenStack will be the open alternative to VMware,” said GigaOM Pro analyst Jo Maitland.
According to an HP white paper, the new HP Compute Cloud service:

is built on OpenStack’s open source operating environment and enhanced with unique HP technology … HP Cloud Compute provides you with the software, control panels, and APIs required to run instances and manage your own compute cloud. In addition, HP Cloud Compute supports a variety of standard hardware con?gurations, and bene?ts from the KVM hypervisor technology.

Since OpenStack is still not completely baked, the “unique HP technology” mentioned is critical. What HP is announcing is that its “HP Converged Cloud”– an umbrella term for hybrid cloud — will amalgamate existing HP technology along with OpenStack in a way that will work across the private, public and hybrid clouds. It said Converged Cloud will be available May 10.

Legacy IT players face Amazon cloud threat

HP, like other tech giants, view Amazon’s growing dominance in the public cloud — and the fact that it is building stronger connections from corporate data centers into its cloud  — with growing alarm. But it’s hard for even companies as huge as HP and IBM to build out the type of infrastructure services Amazon provides and offer them at a profit.
“Building a public cloud and running that infrastructure the way Amazon does is impossible with the enterprise software model. You have to use these open source tools,” said Carl Brooks, analyst with Tier1 Research. “HP is trying to position itself as a company that can field all these services and do so profitably and to manage them all with its tools.”

Mixed cloud messages

It probably doesn’t help these legacy IT vendors build coherence around their strategy when they have have mixed cloud allegiances. For example, HP pledged two years ago to run Microsoft(s msft) Windows Azure services in its data centers in an effort that has gone nowhere yet.
Pearson left that door open however. “HP has always had an open approach to infrastructure. We work with Azure today and will continue to work with it an other platforms that are not based on OpenStack,” he said.
These IT powers are trying to thread the needle between the Amazon public cloud threat on the one hand, and the specter of VMware’s proprietary cloud threat on the other.
Companies like HP want OpenStack to be Linux to VMware’s Microsoft, said Staten, a way to suck some of the cost out of the overall solution and to put price pressure on a formidable opponent. The problem is, right now the economics are uncertain.
Participating fully in the nascent OpenStack Foundation will not be free. In short, OpenStack may be open source and comparatively cheap compared to proprietary software, but it isn’t free. According to the OpenStack Fountation wiki, Platinum foundation members must pony up $500,000 per year and commit to three years.
“These companies have to make revenue and right now OpenStack doesn’t drive revenue,” Staten said. “They have to figure out if the amount of money will pay off on the other side.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr user marianodm