Exclusive: HP's new software guy hints at products to come

Mike Lynch, CEO of Autonomy, tells InfoWorld how Autonomy's technology may surface in HP's product mix

In August, HP announced it would spend $10 billion to acquire Autonomy, Britain's largest software company -- a leader in enterprise search, compliance, and cloud archiving with an impressive list of Fortune 50 customers. A classic Silicon Valley soap opera ensued, starring none other than Larry Ellison, who in a September earnings call accused Autonomy founder and CEO Mike Lynch of shopping Autonomy to Oracle prior to agreeing to the acquisition by HP. Lynch has denied the charge.

Either way, the bottom line is that HP's new CEO Meg Whitman has confirmed the acquisition will go through -- and last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the deal will close as early as today. So what can we expect from the union of HP and Autonomy?

[ InfoWorld published the first in-depth interview with HP's previous CEO, Léo Apotheker. | Is HP's acquisition of Autonomy a wise move? ]

In my interview with Lynch, we covered a range of solutions that will likely flow from Autonomy, which he says will remain a "fairly independent" independent business division of HP. Here's a quick summary of what Autonomy brings to the party:

A very big public cloud. According to Lynch, Autonomy has a huge hosted e-discovery and archiving service: "A lot of commentators have missed that Autonomy's cloud business is now very large. It's now about 30 petabytes. And that's heterogeneous data -- it's desktops, it's messages -- so what you've got is a great resource if you've got questions about what's going on in a company.

Visual recognition. Last spring, Autonomy debuted its Aurasma software for smartphones, which -- using a smartphone's camera -- recognizes images and objects in the real world and enables you to "interact" with them. Lynch explained how that could extend to HP's printing business. "We've got cloud-based document management, which comes as part of the printer. The Aurasma technology will be linked to the printer, so basically, whenever you print something, that image can then be recognized and linked to its virtual version. And whenever you print something out, that print version can become interactive -- you just hold a smartphone up to it."

Search and discovery appliances. Appliances using HP hardware were top of mind for Lynch. He believes that plug-and-go search and discovery solutions, coupled with HP's huge sales force, will expand the market for Autonomy's technology -- which has traditionally targeted large corporations -- to vast numbers of small and medium businesses. "We have 200 salespeople," says Lynch. "Now, with the whole of HP's channel, it's 28,000 people."

Integration with Vertica. At Leo Apotheker's coming-out party a year ago, Vertica, a columnar database solution, was the only technology demo on display. According to Lynch, "That is a really clever piece of technology. So basically what we're going to be doing is putting Vertica with Autonomy, and in one lot, you'll be able to do not only SQL queries, but structured/unstructured at the same time. Unstructured information growth is so high now, and it's becoming such a core part of what we have to do within the enterprise, that it's time for the database to be eclipsed by something that can handle both rather than just one type of information."

Vertical software. Lynch said that the ability of Autonomy software to manage unstructured data will be a boon in a number of vertical areas. "You've got things like HP Healthcare. And what we can do now is drop in some of our really neat unstructured information health care technology -- things like the Auminence Diagnostics tools. That's really nice stuff that could give some differentiation to those products."

As a technologist and entrepreneur, Lynch is an evangelist for his own special brand of unstructured data management. His core technology is based on Bayesian probability, an 18th-century theory that provides the foundation for what he terms "meaning-based computing," where systems "understand" unstructured information in part by identifying clusters of conceptually similar information.

With HP offering an unprecedented opportunity to scale out, Lynch has no shortage of ambition. "I've got is the wonderful ability to open a new chapter," he says. "This time it's about turning over the basis of the enterprise software industry in the biggest move in its history. Every other change in its history has been about the technology -- the 'T' in IT. It's been about mainframe or client-server or even cloud. What we're actually talking about here is information changing -- it's the 'I' -- and that's a phenomenal change. And to be able to do that with [a company] the scale of HP involved is really exciting."

This article, "Exclusive: HP's new software guy hints at products to come," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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