What's next for HP?

What's next for HP?

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Carly Fiorina's departure from Hewlett-Packard (HP) might be an occasion for me to relate an anecdote about Fiorina that demonstrated her cluelessness about storage--but she rarely spoke about storage, and therein lay the problem. During her reign, the reputations of Compaq and HP as engineering innovators suffered and nowhere more than in storage. One former Compaq/HP exec told me that Fiorina told senior staff before the merger that...

product strategy decisions would be made strictly on merit after the merger--politics and past associations would play no role. That, the former exec said, lasted less than three months and was followed by a long period of one step forward, two steps sideways moves.

In the last few years, I've heard a steady drumbeat of questions and concerns that could all be boiled down to "What the heck is going on at HP?" Field office closures, unsteady product road maps, a fairly slow trickle of innovation and the highly public exodus of most of the visible faces heading the storage business led to much soul-searching among longtime HP shops. The occasional interesting product--like the StorageWorks Reference Information Storage System--teased some users into not totally writing off HP, but not all of them.

HP continues to sell a lot of storage, even if it has lost market share in many sectors. But with a confusing midrange/high-end story, the firm has been losing out among the heaviest hitters. The question increasingly seems to be not whether HP will be an alternative to EMC, but whether it will be an alternative to Dell.

So, what's next? I'd encourage the executive search committee to quiz prospective bosses on these issues:

  • Will HP be straight with longtime customers--who are betting their jobs on vendor choices--as to what the firm's commitment will be in terms of sales, service, product development and field support?
  • Is HP willing to commit to storage as its own market, not just an appendage to the server business? Putting an "Adaptive Enterprise" sticker on every product isn't a storage strategy, it's a marketing strategy.
  • Can HP convincingly explain the differences between the XP (based on HDS' Lightning) and the Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA)? In recent years, HP has been unwilling to pigeonhole the EVA as a midrange box, but equally unwilling to upgrade it to the level of the XP or EMC's DMX. At the same time, it has downplayed the XP as being mostly for people who need mainframe connectivity. Which is it? Does the EVA have a future? And if so, what is it?
  • As one of the few companies with a substantial presence in both tape and disk, what's HP's strategy for improving data protection? Whitepapers on information lifecycle management aren't enough.

HP has put a lot of emphasis on strategy and service in recent years at the expense of product road maps and pragmatic deliverables. A visit to its Web site suggests that if you buy into its vision, you'll have a nice future, whenever that is. HP users want to know the future won't come too late for them. HP may be all that's left of Digital Equipment and Compaq--two storage pioneers--but it doesn't have to share their fate.

This was first published in March 2005

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