We live in interesting times…. Time spent with HP’s CTO

I was fortunate, yesterday, to get to spend most of the day with a chap called David Chalmers. He is HP’s UK CTO, focused on the infrastructure business – what is commonly referred to amongst the HP cognoscenti as ESSN (Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking). I have seen him speak on a few occasions, and I invited him in to present to our management team and then to lead a discussion with a few of our customers on current trends in IT, and how HP are looking to address them. For the benefit of those who couldn’t attend, I thought I would summarise the discussion:

The major flow of the conversation was that we live in interesting times, and should feel privileged (I do!) to be working in IT at a point of the biggest change our wonderful industry has seen. There are three major trends contributing to this shift:

1: The underlying technology, and the speed with which companies like HP are developing it

2: Changing business models – we’re talking cloud, here, of course

3: Changing workforce – this is probably the most interesting area. We talked about the fact that those joining the workforce – and increasingly in positions of power – are ‘digital natives’ rather than ‘digital immigrants’, and work in a different way. They won’t be bound to one device, or forced to work in the way in which IT want them to….

The figured David quoted were that there will be 7.8 billion people in the world by 2025, and that whilst there are 2 billion online today, there will be 4 billion by 2020. Digital content is accelerating at a rate of knots, and this presents real challenges in how we deal with this data – how we store, move, manage, protect and deliver it. At the same time, this presents an amazing opportunity, as we can know so much more about the world around us. He referred to the ‘sea of sensors’ that HP have produced, which are used by Shell to monitor seismic activity in the search for oil, and on the Golden Gate Bridge to ‘listen’ for stress fractures and wear. Mobile will be a key technology, with vastly more smartphones sold than PCs – hence the Palm acquisition and forthcoming TouchPad launch (regular readers will know that I’m a fan of the tablet form factor!).

So how do we as IT professionals respond, in a rapidly changing world, where we ‘don’t know what we don’t know? Well, in two ways:

Firstly, we need to adapt our existing infrastructure. Heretofore, we have locked stuff down, kept it as fixed as possible to manage it. Now, we need to move towards ‘The Instant On Enterprise’ – agile, responsive…

Secondly, we need to prepare for and embrace the world of ‘cloud’ – it’s doubtful that companies will all of a sudden go wholesale into the cloud, but it makes sense to work towards a hybrid model, where core services are managed internally, but tier two applications are consumed in this model.

I’ll post in a forthcoming blog on how Softcat are following this model as we evolve our own IT to support our next phase of growth.

The overwhelming view was that business is starting to outpace IT, and that the old model of restricting access for control (cross reference Mordac!) will lead to IT being bypassed. IT need to spend less time building things, and more time acting as a procurer, service-delivery-manager and broker of cloud-based services. There’s a lot of work still to be done in making this hybrid model a coherent whole for the consumers of IT services – and HP feel they have a strong play in this space.

So where does this fit in to HP’s vision of Converged Infrastructure that we have heard so much about? The point is that by bringing together a coherent stack of infrastructure, and most importantly delivering the software to manage it, will enable this fluid and agile environment. HP’s commonality of components across the range will drive down cost for customers as well. Of course, HP will still interoperate with other products where customers require – but the message was that this will be more expensive and harder to implement and manage. Is that a message that rings true within your organisation?

An interesting discussion followed, amongst the customers who had joined us. We had one organisation, set up as a ‘green field’ about eight years ago, who were real consumers of cloud services, with really only the key differentiating services delivered internally. Another company consider themselves a theoretical convert, but in looking into infrastructure as a service, they decided they could do it cheaper themselves!

The regulatory landscape and security concerns were both hot topics. I felt that the prevailing view here was that companies are more likely to consume services from smaller, friendlier local providers who could guarantee the geographical location of their data, rather than the large-scale, worldwide providers such as Google and Amazon. I’m hoping that’s the case; as you can imagine that would suit Softcat!

I thought I would round off this post with a few interesting things I learnt about HP that you may not know:

Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter all run on HP servers

HP have licensed their inkjet technology to a pharmaceutical company – the precise droplet delivery enables exact doses of anti-cancer medication to be delivered without needles, apparently

HP sell 2 PCs a second, and a server every 11 seconds!

HP’s European datacenter is in, believe it or not, Middlesborough! It’s not under any flight path, and it’s one of the coldest and windiest places in the UK – so the cooling is almost exclusively fresh air! This saves £16m a year in power that would have been needed for the aircon.

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