Review: HP Cloud challenges Amazon and Google

HP's OpenStack-based IaaS cloud blends openness and portability with nice proprietary extras and welcome hand-holding

Hewlett-Packard may be best known for its ubiquitous printers and laptops, but in the enterprise world, it is just as recognized for its servers. Now that the idea of the cloud is taking over, HP is joining the marketplace and renting some of its servers in the HP Cloud.

The servers are priced by the hour just like everyone else's, but though these machines may be commodities like hamburgers, there are differences, just as there are differences between Burger King and McDonald's.

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For instance, HP offers a longer list of Linux distributions for your new server slice than some of the others. You can get the classics such as Ubuntu, Debian, and CentOS in many of the best-known versions. If you know what you're going to do with the machine, you can start right up with a Bitnami distribution sporting a number of pre-installed applications like Drupal.

Not everything is on the list. Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Server, two operating systems offered for a bit more money by Rackspace and other clouds, aren't anywhere to be seen. This promises to be temporary. Marc Padovani, HP Cloud Services director of product management, suggests that Windows will arrive sooner rather than later. And a long list of solution partners shows that HP Cloud is embracing a broad commercial ecosystem along with the open source software.

The HP Cloud is built on OpenStack, which should be attractive for any enterprise manager worried about being locked into a cloud. Sure, all of the cloud vendors talk as if the machines are really commodities, but if it takes you several months to recode your scripts, mobility is extremely limited. HP's embrace of OpenStack is clearly a push to attract managers who want the flexibility to outgrow the HP Cloud or just move on. The wide range of Linux distributions feels like a part of that plan.

As with the other clouds, the price list for HP Cloud machines largely follows the amount of RAM. The smallest offering delivers 1GB of RAM for 4 cents per hour. This price is cut in half now during a special "public beta" promotion. By comparison, Rackspace charges 6 cents per hour for a 1GB machine.

HP starts tossing in additional virtual CPUs with more RAM. A 2GB machine comes with two virtual CPUs, not one. Some cloud providers don't speak about the number of CPUs, but this may be an advantage for certain applications.

There isn't a lockstep connection between the amount of RAM and the number of CPUs as you march down the price list, but it's roughly correlated. By the time you reach a 32GB machine, you also get eight virtual CPUs at a price of $1.28 per hour (or 64 cents during the private beta sale).

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