View from the airport: HPE Discover 2018

Adam Shepherd

25 Jun, 2018

This year marks my very first HPE Discover, stepping in to cover for IT Pro’s resident HPE expert Jane McCallion, and it’s been a good introduction to the company’s new direction – it’s safe to say that the HPE we saw this week is a rather different beast to the enterprise giant of old.

This year’s event was new CEO Antonio Neri’s first Discover as head of the company, and the first real opportunity for HPE’s customers, partners and staff to get a sense of his leadership style without the shadow of former boss Meg Whitman hanging over him. More than anything else, he came across as profoundly genuine; he’s been with the company for more than 20 years, starting out in the customer service department and working his way up the ranks, and it’s clear that he eats, sleeps, lives and breathes HPE.

He obviously cares deeply about the company, and one of the messages he kept repeating throughout the week was that he’s planning for the long game, rather than chasing short-term successes. As far as I’m concerned, HPE couldn’t be in safer hands from a leadership perspective.

With that said, however, I do have some slight reservations coming away from Discover 2018.

For one thing, the company’s strategy feels somewhat confused – HPE is an infrastructure provider first and foremost, but the company had virtually no new technology to show off. There were some minor updates to its Edgeline systems and new software-defined networking from Aruba, but other than that, the company’s traditional storage and server products hardly got a look-in.

This is slightly troubling for a company whose main business still revolves around these products. HPE has been putting a lot of effort into building out its GreenLake flexible consumption offering – which is a good direction to explore for HPE and its channel partners, especially in light of the growing desire for businesses to shift their spending from CapEx to OpEx.

On the other hand, the fact remains that even with flexible consumption, customers will still need something to consume, and we’re slightly worried that the company may soon end up slipping behind its rivals in traditional infrastructure R&D.

There is one notable exception to this – The Machine.

Long-time HPE followers will know that The Machine is the surprisingly awesome-sounding codename given to the company’s memory-driven computing project, which has had something of a chequered history. Martin Fink, the ex-CTO who was the brains behind the project, retired two years ago, and many believed The Machine had retired with him.

Amazingly, however, this year’s discover saw HPE actually launch something off the back of the project, in the form of a cloud-based environment designed to let developers play around with memory-driven computing. It may not be quite what we were initially promised – not yet, anyway – but it’s still surprising to see that The Machine is still chugging along.

As for the rest of the show, most of the focus was placed on what HPE is branding ‘the intelligent edge’. Translated, this means ‘anything that’s not a data centre or the cloud’. Astute readers will notice that this covers a pretty huge range of products, environments and use-cases, from industrial IoT systems, to office networking, to connected cars and more.

HPE has committed to a $4 billion investment in ‘the intelligent edge’ over the next four years, and while it’s a smart play for the company (not to mention being in line with its previous strategy), I can’t help but worry that covering such a broad area with a single blanket term runs the risk that it’ll lose all meaning.

One thing that was also repeatedly emphasised was HPE’s renewed focus on customers and partners, and unlike some other enterprise companies, it does seem sincere in this regard. Whether or not its more ambitious bets around edge computing and flexible consumption pay off, it seems like HPE has its heart firmly in the right place, and we’ll be watching with interest when Discover Europe rolls around in Autumn.

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