Microsoft-HP deal: Is it real or hype?

Microsoft and HP plan to spend $250 million over the next three years, but how will it really affect virtualization and cloud computing?

Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard announced a three-year agreement to spend $250 million on product integration and joint marketing. The two companies will collaborate on an engineering road map for data management machines; converged, pre-packaged application solutions; comprehensive virtualization offerings; and integrated management tools.

To add a bit more muscle behind the announcement, the two companies brought out their top executives, HP CEO Mark Hurd and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who called the agreement the IT industry's "most comprehensive technology stack integration to date" -- ranging from infrastructure to application.

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What's it all mean?

The strategic partnership brings together server, storage, network, and application resources into a self-managed environment. Part of the agreement is to develop integrated offerings that involve Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization, Microsoft System Center management software, HP Virtual SAN Appliance technology (formerly LeftHand Networks), HP Insight Software, and HP Business Technology Optimization software. And moving from virtualization to the cloud, Microsoft and HP will collaborate on the Windows Azure platform, with the two companies offering services while Microsoft continues to invest in HP hardware for the Azure infrastructure.

If the announcement sounds a bit familiar, perhaps you are having flashbacks to the alliance agreement announced between Cisco, EMC, and VMware where a Vblock infrastructure package was created that combined VMware vSphere, Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) blades, Cisco networking, EMC storage, and its Ionix management platform. And to help service the architecture, implementation, and support, don't forget about the joint effort behind Acadia.

Or perhaps you are thinking of the visions coming out of an Oracle acquisition of Sun Microsystems, combining server, network, storage, virtualization, and applications from these two vendors. This has a very similar ring to it as well.

Microsoft and HP may have come out strong and bold with this announcement, but there are still questions that need to be answered. Just like the questions surrounding the Cisco, EMC, and VMware deal, is this Microsoft and HP announcement for real? Or is it more about marketing hype? And how is this announcement any different really from the way things were before the announcement was made?  Microsoft and HP were already close partners -- much the same as Cisco, EMC, and VMware. So how much is really new here? And what does this mean for the partnership between HP and VMware? It seems highly unlikely that HP and its salespeople would turn their backs on all of the VMware business that's out there.

Perhaps an even bigger question needs to be asked: How does this announcement (and the other collaboration deals) really affect the idea behind virtualization and cloud computing? What happened to abstracting away the underlying hardware?  What happened to choosing the best-of-breed solution or having the flexibility to build an environment with interchangeable components? Are we going backward by looking toward vendor specific stacks? Will customers be put off by the inability to mix and match products from different vendors? Down the road, it wouldn't be too difficult to change out one component for another. But what happens if you need to change out the server, network, storage, and virtualization platform all at once across the entire data center?

Sure, having these stacks doesn't preclude you from creating your own mixed environment. That much is true.

And, that's not to say that there aren't a lot of interesting and valuable things going on with this announcement either. Take, for instance, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) -- those new to virtualization and cloud computing could gain a lot of assistance thanks to this new partnership agreement. Microsoft and HP will attempt to simplify the technology and speed up the return on investment (ROI) which should have a direct impact on the SMB market and the adoption rate of virtualization and cloud computing.

And from a support standpoint, this new unified solution stack for data centers should prove to be rock solid. The hardware and software stack that make up the solution will be a known entity. Many of the variables that would have been introduced by self-architecting a solution would be removed, making troubleshooting much easier. And that troubleshooting can further be assisted by a team of more than 11,000 Microsoft-certified HP professionals worldwide from HP Services in partnership with Microsoft Services, all of which will offer support for the entire integrated hardware and software stack from simple implementations to complex enterprise infrastructures.

Despite a few small overlaps, Microsoft and HP products and services are very complementary. And the relationship between these two companies seem to make a lot of sense from the outside looking in, and could prove quite formidable if it ever extends beyond joint marketing efforts and product bundling.

For now, if nothing else, perhaps this announcement is enough for Microsoft and HP to "freeze the market" and keep consumers from purchasing competitive solutions like Vblocks.

This story, "Microsoft-HP deal: Is it real or hype?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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