HP's new OpenStack distro is serious business

HP's 'Helion' edition of OpenStack and Cloud Foundry aims to allow HP to go toe-to-toe with Red Hat and IBM on multiple fronts

It's now Hewlett-Packard's turn to to become an OpenStack player and then some. HP's not only offering its own OpenStack distribution under the "Helion" label, it's also offering its own Cloud Foundry distribution, plus support for all of the above via HP's professional services.

Helion is the generic term for HP's collection of OpenStack offerings. The most obvious incarnation is its own OpenStack distribution, to be released in the short run as a free community edition and appropriately called Helion OpenStack Community. This edition's derived directly from the recent "Icehouse" release of OpenStack, and HP claims future versions of the community edition of Helion will continue to closely track the trunk releases of OpenStack.

HP notes that the community edition is mainly intended to help users get a foot in the door with the product, or for modest production loads. Later on down the road, though, HP plans to release a more upscale version of its OpenStack product that includes for-pay support and enterprise tools like support for third-party hypervisors and a regular upgrade path.

In many ways, this strategy echoes what the other big OpenStack vendor, Red Hat, has been doing with Linux: Put out a community edition of its product to get people on board (although these days that's more CentOS than Fedora), but have people pay for the full-blown, supported-and-maintained product.

And like Red Hat, HP plans to stand behind the commercial version of the product, not just through its existing on-site support people, but also via HP's existing network of data centers. There, HP plans to offer public cloud services based on OpenStack, starting in 20 selected data centers around the globe over the next 18 months. HP has an edge here since enterprises that want to build infrastructure with OpenStack find they're stuck doing most of the heavy lifting.

Another sign of HP's commitment to OpenStack as a way of life and not just as a technology is its open source indemnification program: Users of HP's OpenStack are protected from third-party claims of infringement of intellectual property over the use of the software. Not all prospective trolls might be small-scale hit-and-run artists, but other major names in cloud-- something InfoWorld's Simon Phipps has considered as a serious possibility.

One analysis of HP's indemnification stance sees it as sending a signal to companies wary of committing all the more completely to an open source platform, although the fact that it's HP -- a large and well-defended company -- offering such indemnity speaks loudest of all. After all, HP offered a similar indemnity program for Linux users back in 2003 in the wake of the SCO/Linux lawsuits, so this is more in keeping with HP's established practices than it is anything radical.

Helion also includes the open source PaaS system Cloud Foundry -- a third hint of the breadth of HP's program. HP's edition of Cloud Foundry will be provided later this year under the HP Helion Developer Platform brand.

OpenStack has its own PaaS project, called Solum, that's being spearheaded by Rackspace, but it's a relative fledgling compared to Cloud Foundry. Solum was only just announced at the end of last year, while Cloud Foundry has three years of growth and user uptake on its side. More importantly, HP has skin in this particular game in the form of being a key member of the Cloud Foundry governance panel.

HP is up against two major competitors in this area, one obvious and the other not. The obvious one is Red Hat, and there, HP clearly plans to bank on its existing name recognition, its status as a solutions and technology provider, and its collection of data centers through which it can provide hosted infrastructure. But Red Hat has expertise and tight integration with OpenStack across the Red Hat line and offers its own indemnification program as well.

The non-obvious competitor involves not just OpenStack, but Cloud Foundry: IBM and its BlueMix PaaS. BlueMix's ambitions are nothing less than pulling all of IBM's cloud services together into a unified architecture, along with a whole catalog of predefined, SaaS-ified applications to make using the system all the easier. And yes, IBM is as major an OpenStack player as it gets now that it has consolidated just about its entire cloud strategy around OpenStack and is becoming one of its de facto corporate stewards.

It remains to be seen if HP is interested in simply building a parallel (albeit better) cloud business with of OpenStack or if it wants to garner as much influence on OpenStack directly as IBM has been angling for. But in the short run, it's clear HP wants to be taken seriously as more than just an OpenStack vendor -- and that "just" being a vendor of OpenStack, or most any big-scale open source product, won't cut it anymore.

This story, "HP's new OpenStack distro is serious business," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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