View from the airport: HPE Discover 2019

The legacy vendor says it's heading in a new direction, but can it really keep on top of all these pledges?

Sands Expo Center at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Just over two years into Antonio Neri's tenure as CEO at HPE and the company is rather a different beast to how Meg Whitman left it in November 2017.

Not much has changed structurally, but this year's Discover conference in Las Vegas to me pointed to a change in culture. Of course, we had the usual product announcements some of which were quite exciting but there was a lot of time spent talking about more "businessy" elements.

HPE CEO Antonio Neri on stage at HPE Discover 2019 Las Vegas in front of GreenLake text

GreenLake is a standout example of this. The consumption-based service was launched back in November 2017 (just as Neri took the reins, in fact) but was absolutely the star of the show this year.

It's clear the company is now aggressively pursuing an 'as a service' model, rather than sell once and hope for repeat custom down the line, as has been the case in the past, with a pledge to make the full HPE portfolio available through GreenLake by 2022. While there is a bit of a fudge (you can still buy on a one-off basis rather than consumption if you really want), this to me is a big step away from the years of talking about "hybrid IT" under Whitman, which I saw largely as an attempt to give a veneer of cloudiness to HPE's products while really maintaining a traditional, legacy vendor profile.

Speaking of the cloud, the company has really started to embrace this technology in partnership with cloud vendors and not just old friends like Microsoft, but also AWS and Google. In particular, it's using containerisation technology to its advantage, as well as public cloud companies' realisation that they need to play nice with traditional vendors in order to maximise their customer pool (not everything can be hosted on a public cloud, after all).

Aruba head Keerti Melkote and HPE CEO Antonio Neri at HPE Discover 2019 keynote

HPE has also brought its networking business, Aruba, front and centre in the cloud conversation with a major update to Aruba Central. Indeed, it was given one of the handfuls of product slots during the keynote, with Aruba co-founder Keerti Melkote taking to the stage alongside Neri to talk about this cloud management service.

We also saw the company's in-memory computing efforts start to bear some commercial fruit. While The Machine, as it was called, was quietly downgraded over the past few years from in-memory computing moonshot product to in-memory computing project, to really just another part of HPE Labs, its technology lives on in the shape of Primera.

This appliance which its beaming creators were clearly delighted with at the press launch comes with a 100% uptime guarantee (I'm not rounding up there, either) and was described to me by an independent analyst as the company's most important storage launch in years.

Primera storage appliance press reveal at HPE Discover 2019

There was also a lot of emphasis on the company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, including its continued partnership with Purdue University aimed at using data and analytics to solve world hunger (no, really). As we were repeatedly told, the company's commitment to social good goes all the way back to "Bill and David" (Hewlett and Packard respectively, in case you're not on first name terms with the company's founders), although not an awful lot of evidence was brought along to support this claim.

Overall, particularly as someone who missed 2018's Discover and Discover Europe, I feel there's been a palpable change in the company over the last 18 months and I'm not the only one, which can be credited almost entirely to Neri.

As a couple of people I spoke to at the event pointed out, he's an unusual breed of CEO nowadays; he joined HPE's predecessor, HP as a call centre operative in 1995 and over the intervening 24 years worked his way up to the top job, rather than being a direct transplant like the four CEOs who preceded him. I understand he's quite hands-on and will have been closely involved with the development of Aruba Central (he was HP's networking head for a while after all), staking Primera's 100% uptime claim and the pivot to a consumption-based business.

Without wishing to sound like I'm completely toeing the party line, HPE really does feel like a more services-oriented and collaborative business than it was just a short two years ago. I'll be intrigued to see next year how much business is actually being done through GreenLake (of the 600 customers currently counted as doing business through the scheme, two-thirds are actually "in the pipeline"), and whether we'll see how that 100% uptime claim has held up. If it's done well we could be at a very exciting point in the development of storage technology and I would expect to see some more products using the same technology to be very literally unveiled.

All images: Jane McCallion/Dennis Publishing. All rights reserved.

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