View from the airport: HPE one year on

Jane McCallion experiences déjà vu at Discover 2016, but that might not be a bad thing

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

There's an enterprise IT company based in Palo Alto, California, that is whittling down its business focus through a spin-off that will see two totally separate, but still very closely aligned, companies created. This will be beneficial for customers, the CEO says, because what they want is greater specialism and focus from their suppliers. Smaller is better.

Sound familiar? You're not the only one.

I felt a distinct feeling of dj vu at this year's HPE Discover in Las Vegas, and from speaking to others present there I know I'm not alone.

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The tone of HPE CEO Meg Whitman's keynotes, for example, were very similar to those she delivered in June 2015 at the last HP Discover before the company split to become Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and HP Inc, even down to the reassurances she offered to customers and partners that everything is going to be fine when HPE splits once again, spinning off its enterprise services division and merging it with consultancy firm CSC.

Whitman gave affirmation and reaffirmation that this is a shrewd business manoeuvre; the belief that companies with a narrower focus are more agile, quicker to respond and will be the ones that are the most successful in the future.

It was all very, very familiar.

From a product point of view, it was all a little similar as well, although from a more recent event: HPE Discover London 2015, back in December.

Many of the launches, such as the Edgeline EL1000 and EL4000, are delivering on promises made six months ago, with Internet of Things riding high, once again, as a dominant theme.

Indeed, rather than launches, this year's Discover was more about incremental updates to existing products, such as Helion CloudSystem 10 (version nine was introduced at HP Discover 2015), Helion Stackato 4, Cloudline 3100 Server and OneView 3.

But that's not to say there was nothing new at all.

The company's partnership with Docker was a standout moment from this year's conference. It may sound small, but containerisation and the use of Docker is the next phase of cloud computing. It seems HPE has realised this and is trying to get ahead of the curve with its Docker-ready hardware - a move that could stand it in good stead for a good while to come.

As William Fellows from 451 Research told me, when a big, traditional vendor gets on board with something like Docker, exciting things are going to happen, and I will be interested to see where this leads.

In some ways, it's unsurprising that there was a lot of strategy and not much product at Discover: While HPE may walk and talk a lot like the HP of old, it's not the same company and, while the process was smooth, breaking up is never easy. HPE still has to find its feet, somewhat, as a new company and come out of its own shadow.

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Spitting out half-a-dozen new products and services, having only done so in December with Edgeline, Synergy and cloud brokerage, would perhaps have been a questionable move too - what appears to be rampant levels of innovation can sometimes be cover for desperation in a struggling company.

Nevertheless, if I find myself suffering too much from dj vu at the next conference I, and others, will start to question what is going on, irrespective of how many reassurances we get.

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