What HP’s new cloud guy wants you to know about HP’s new cloud

HP’s cloud computing efforts have been the subject of much curiosity —  not always in a good way — over the past year, but Hewlett-Packard’s(s hpq) top cloud guy Saar Gillai  said the company is putting confusion and concern about its long-term future behind it.

“Last year was an interesting one, but in the last six months since, it’s all been positive news,” Gillai said in an interview on Wednesday at the OpenStack Summit.

Saar Gillai, Hewlett-Packard senior VP of converged cloud

Saar Gillai, Hewlett-Packard senior VP of converged cloud

During that timeframe HP brought its public cloud online  and  the compute, block store and object store subsystems are all broadly available. This week, it announced new “cloud bursting” capabilities for HP CloudSystem and that it had integrated its 3Par fibre-channel storage with OpenStack.

As for actual customer adoption of that HP public cloud? The company will only put the number at “thousands.”  And, Gillai reaffirmed that the company will make OpenStack available on all its major platforms, which in theory would include its glitzy new Project Moonshot servers. OpenStack is HP’s operating system for cloud, is the message.

But HP’s version of OpenStack will be  “hardened for the enterprise” vision and backed by enterprise-class SLAs, a stance that echoes what Zorawar Biri Singh, HP’s last cloud chief, told GigaOM a few months ago.

Here’s the thing: despite HP’s dramatic ups and downs of the past two years, it has lots of long-standing enterprise accounts that really would prefer not to defect to another vendor at this stage. “Our customers want us to succeed,” Gillai maintained. And many of these companies have barely tested cloud deployments.

The Amazon Web Services question

Many of those same customers are no doubt using Amazon(s amzn) Web Services for some storage or running non-mission critical workloads, but Gillai said AWS has a long way to go to become a true enterprise technology provider.

“Enterprise customers require business continuity assurances, they want someone to call and interact with,” he said. “Sure, AWS  is going after the enterprise, but it’s not that simple. You need feet on the street and you need account management. There’s a reason it takes companies time to build all that. You need a brand and you need trust.”

And, he said, echoing a now familiar theme, once big companies get a true picture of how much it costs to run some loads in AWS, they may find it cheaper to bring them into their own data centers or use a private cloud deployment instead. That’s where AWS may find some tough going, despite its moves to build bridges between AWS and private clouds.

Given AWS’s momentum, and the full court press it’s made on enterprise sales, this may be wishful thinking but, as many GigaOM commenters have pointed out, the percentage of total IT spend going to cloud now is pretty damn small. These are early days.

OpenStack consolidation to come

Unlike other OpenStackers at the show, Gillai expects there to be a shakeout of OpenStack vendors over time. “If all you’re doing is [an OpenStack] distribution, that’s not a business. I can build a distro right now for a one-server system, it’s a lot harder when you’re dealing with networked systems,” he said.

This is one big reason OpenStack will not follow the Linux model, he said: “The question is, how do you make money?  Linux is all about your compute system with some drivers — it’s an operating system. OpenStack is a plug-in architecture with myriad plug-ins and that can take you from one node to a million. To certify and install it can be miles more complicated than with Linux, so you need another business model.”

Companies that run public clouds — like, say HP — will be the experts with lots of insight, he said. “I would be wary of getting OpenStack distribution from someone who doesn’t run it on a huge cloud.”