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HP puts webOS at the heart of its new cloud strategy

23 марта 2011

Hewlett-Packard's CEO Leo Apotheker has stepped out of the shadows and pinned his company's colors to the cloud mast. He has the right idea - don't try to compete in smartphones, where the company has neither the scale nor brand allure required; instead harness the strengths of the webOS system, acquired with Palm, to drive a business where HP has real advantages.

The new strategy, outlined this week, shows clearly that the purchase of webOS was nothing to do with being a mobile device player per se, and everything to do with creating a cloud offering that runs on HP technologies from end to end. As well as launching its own cloud service marketplace to compete with Amazon and Google, HP will preload webOS on PCs, printers and any other product that will be used to connect to that platform.

"webOS will provide one user interface across home, the business and the enterprise," Apotheker said.

The dream of the cloud was to be able to access apps, data and content from any browser enabled device, anywhere. Like other vendors, including Amazon itself, HP is trying to narrow that down a little, forcing users to use devices that run its own systems. Also like its rival and template, it will not be able to take too rigid a line on that - access to its services from Windows, Android and others could hardly be barred, but it will aim to make a superior experience, especially for the enterprise, on its own OS, which will span a wider range of products than any other.

"We intend to be the platform for cloud and connectivity," said Apotheker in his first major presentation since becoming CEO in September, when he replaced Mark Hurd. "HP intends to build and run an HP cloud. We will launch a public cloud offering in the near future." This will host HP and third party apps and services, including a store for enterprise and consumer bases. HP will also control the critical glue or middleware, which it will roll out over the course of the year.

The app store will have a broader remit than the mobile specific ones like App Store, though opening dates remain vague. The marketplace will integrated consumer, enterprise and developer services, including the store plus tools and enterprise services and support, Apotheker said.

He claims that, by including webOS in all its PCs and other devices, it will quickly create a huge base and ecosystem for the system, shipping it in as many as 100m products a year (preloading in PCs will start at the turn of the year). In many cases, by running it alongside other OSs like Windows, rather than going to all-out war with more established platforms.

As virtualization becomes more common, webOS could even run alongside other systems of the user?s choice, such as Android - as long as the HP technology comes into play for cloud services, making it indispensable, even if it does not sit by itself. And while the word 'PC' was scarcely mentioned in the official documentation accompanying the launch, HP has a clear interest in prolonging the PC's life, as a cloud device. "People like to use PCs and printers," said Apotheker. "Traditional technology is where we create a lot of value."

All this shows HP riding above the OS wars, which cloud/browser standards like HTML5 should gradually make irrelevant. In that way, it has a very modern vision of how to tie users in, and seeks to do away with the gap between mobile and PC OSs, as suffered by Apple and even Google (with its Android/Chrome OS approach).

There are many challenges though, notably exciting developer support when there are bigger, less risky platforms on which to focus. HP is using its huge PC base and its focus on cloud-based services to make up for its undoubted shortage of apps compared to Android and iOS, and Apotheker is also promising to reverse the cost cutting of his predecessor, Mark Hurd, on the R&D side, to create new products for webOS that will be "cooler than Apple".

Steven McArthur, SVP of the consumer applications business, told Computerworld recently that there will be a two-stage webOS apps strategy. He said: "If you tear apart the app stores of both Android and Apple, you find that a small majority of apps make up the vast majority of downloads, and you find a surprisingly large number of apps make up the filler." So initially, HP will focus on a few strategic apps like Facebook, Yelp and Skype, integrating them tightly with the devices. In terms of new features, its inhouse team will develop a 'top app' and then open it to third party developers for extensions.

However, webOS will certainly need to compete in other ways than on conventional apps, and in its quest for new ways of operating, and new developer types, it risks over-stretching itself. There are good reasons why Google, Apple, and even Nokia, work on different OSs for PCs and the cloud, than for mobile devices, which remain largely self-contained. WebOS, which though modern and admired is immature, will have a heavy burden to work effectively in so many environments.

And success depends on HP getting its cloud services accepted, otherwise the inclusion of webOS in PCs becomes pointless. It does have plenty of experience of building and running large scale data centers, web services and middleware, and as Apotheker pointed out: "If you want to be in the cloud business, it has to be large scale." He also said there would be a "disciplined acquisition strategy" to fill in gaps in the cloud offering and in HP's other key directions, business analytics and software as a service.

Researchers at IDC certainly agree that HP is getting its priorities right. Technology vendors will only survive if they embrace mobile devices and cloud services as the integrated platform that will drive business and consumer usage for the next couple of decades, the firm argued at its annual conference this week. Mobile devices and cloud services represent a third major platform, following mainframes and PCs, said chief analyst Frank Gens. "A critical mass of people is realizing its time to stop arguing and start bringing these technologies into the center of what they are doing," he said.

As many as 80% of enterprise apps developed in 2011 will be for cloud services, IDC estimates, and by 2014, about 30% of all business apps used will be via the cloud. Amazon and Microsoft have already rolled out service-based platforms, and IBM and Oracle will follow in the near future. While the cloud can help address the "madness" of so many different OSs, Gens thinks devices must use local storage and apps too, because most will not always be connected. For this reason, he thinks Google's Chrome OS is "doomed to failure".

Источник: 4G Trends

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