What HP’s cloud chief wants you to know about HP’s cloud

The controversies that afflicted Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) in the past few years have given even the most loyal customers and partners pause. This is, after all, a company that has gone through a half dozen CEOs in 6 years. That uncertainty doesn’t help HP’s cloud computing strategy, which had so many moving parts that the company launched yet another reorg to rationalize the effort two months ago. That might help, but HP still needs to prove it can execute on cloud computing and not surprisingly, Zorawar Biri Singh, SVP and GM of HP Cloud Services, says it can.

Here’s a boiled down version of the Q&A I had with Singh Friday afternoon.

Where’s the rest of the HP OpenStack cloud?

The HP public cloud beta that went live in May includes OpenStack-based storage and content delivery network (CDN) components. The compute piece of that cloud will come soon — probably next month at the HP Discover conference in Frankfurt. Singh did not promise code delivery at that time, but said to “stay tuned.” And a betting person would say that the company had better have real code ready for that event.

HP’s aim is to provide a sort of “OpenStack Plus.” Singh said the company will “curate a set of OpenStack code, adding value around billing, metering, identity, orchestration, load balancing, DNS and messaging services — stuff that will extend OpenStack.”

As for private cloud, he said HP is working on it. “Expect us to have a common reference architecture and code base for public and private cloud soon,” he said.

Will enterprises want and wait for HP’s cloud vs. Amazon?

It’s true that it’s still early days for enterprise cloud and  HP contends that big companies want more reliability and service than is available now in any public cloud. They also want “raw service level agreements (SLAs) in which we’ll guarantee you this much performance or will pay you for it,” Singh said. “We think our SLAs will emerge as a differentiator for any cloud vendor.”

HP says its SLAs for object storage and CDN offer 99.95 percent availability compared to 99.90 percent for Amazon(s AMZN) storage and CDN. HP recognizes one failed instance as “unavailable” while AWS says all running instances have to be without external connectivity to be categorized as such.

HP will go after enterprise workloads — traditional mission-critical jobs — as well as newer “mobile stuff.” And enterprise customers have been unwilling to commit mission critical loads to cloud yet, in his view. There are “many customers that won’t commit to the VMware(s vmw) or the IBM(s ibm) stack yet,” he said. Many of HP’s current enterprise customers want an HP cloud, he said.

But why HP Openstack vs. Rackspace or Red Hat OpenStack?

Again, it’s the “OpenStack Plus” argument. HP thinks its enterprise software know-how — all the enterprise IP it’s accumulated with the acquisition of Mercury Interactive and other software companies in the past decade — will make its OpenStack shine above the others. And, Singh said it’s done a ton with OpenStack since it started working on it last year.

The SLA argument holds true here too, he said. According to HP, Rackspace offers 99.90 percent SLA for storage and CDN compared to 99.95 percent for HP.

Finally, HP being a hardware company still, hopes to press that advantage as well by “fusing” OpenStack into its converged hardware.

How will HP sell its cloud?

Part of HP’s problem has been fragmentation of the company itself. People working in servers and storage, enterprise software, PC, or printer group might just have well as been with separate companies. Given that, the hope is that the company can get people together to sell the HP cloud story. The formation of the converged cloud group targeted that problem. And on the sales side, a “cloud strike team” of several hundred people is “incented and paid on cloud alone” Singh said.

Netting it out

So here’s the thing. Singh talked a good game but execution is key. In early October, HP COO Bill Veghte said HP’s cloud related revenue grew 39 percent year over year to $4 billion in 2012, and forecast it will hit $8.4 billion by 2015, that’s an impressive number. But HP most definitely does not have the enterprise cloud space to itself. There it will contend with arch-rival IBM(s ibm) yet again. Meanwhile, Rackspace and Red Hat are promoting their respective OpenStack clouds to a similar set of customers. IBM itself has yet to detail its OpenStack plan, but it, like HP, has said it will bake OpenStack into its hardware. HP’s SLA story is strong, but no one expects the other players attacking this market — including Amazon which is adding more enterprise capabilities to its cloud all the time — will stand still. Look for Amazon to talk up its enterprise pitch at Amazon Re:Invent next week.

It’s true that we’re in the early days of enterprise cloud, but there is no shortage of proven IT powers in addition to HP that are in this game to stay.