With HP now in the game, the enterprise cloud fray gets more interesting

As expected, Hewlett-Packard(S hpq) will announce general availability of its OpenStack compute cloud this week. And with that, the whole enterprise cloud picture gets more interesting.

It’s easy to discount HP given its long-running troubles, but the IT giant still has lots of customers — the types of customers that make major IT decisions at the CIO level. Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, on the other hand, has been a lower-level developer sale, although that’s starting to change. C-level execs at big companies may not be comfortable using AWS, which after all, is a sideline business offered by an online reseller. (Sorry, AWS, but you won’t even tell us what your revenue is.)

Enterprises buy a different cloud story

“Enterprises are looking for more traditional, full-service relationship and aren’t sure about Google and Amazon,” said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. “HP could capitalize on that.”

The enterprise IT vendors — Dell(s dell), HP, IBM(s ibm), Oracle(s orcl), et al are playing catchup to Amazon(s amzn) in public cloud deployments. They want to move their existing hardware, software and services customers to their own clouds. And AWS is working hard to siphon those customers away with higher level enterprise-class services. That’s what I mean about more interesting.

HP claims SLA advantage in cloud

HP COO Bill Veghte (pictured) will unveil HP Cloud Compute at the HP Discover event on Wednesday. Prices start at $0.04 per hour with a service level agreement (SLA) of at least 99.95 percent — or fewer than 30 minutes downtime per month. AWS offers an SLA of 99.95 percent per year but requires very specific configurations to meet its bar for reimbursement. Gartner analyst Lydia Leong has said that Amazon’s SLAs are “narrowly defined” and don’t cover Elastic Block Storage (EBS), which most customers use.

That’s a difference HP hopes will attract customers. “HP customers want an HP cloud,” HP cloud chief Zorawar Biri Singh told me recently.

IBM says the same thing. As does Rackspace — which touts “fanatical support” as its drawing card. On the other side of the aisle, AWS is recruiting enterprise sales and support engineers from big IT companies to build sales coverage and customer rapport. Last week at AWS: Reinvent it named 15  premier consulting partners — 2nd Watch, 8K Miles, Aquilent, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capgemini, CSS, CITYTECH, Cognizant, Datapipe, Dedalus, MarketShare, Razorfish, Smartronix, Full 360, and Wipro — to help with enterprise accounts. No one is standing still in this important battle for cloud credibility and customers.

Here’s the thing: AWS is by far the leader in cloud now, but it’s also true that we are very early in the game when it comes to enterprise cloud deployments. Anything can happen.