Why Autonomy is a smart buy for HP

With unique technology for deriving meaning from words and images, as well as a huge public cloud compliance service, Autonomy's been ripe for a bid from a big player

The spin-off of HP's PC business has grabbed all the attention, but for enterprise customers, the acquisition of Autonomy for $10 billion is just as significant.

I've been fascinated by Autonomy, Britain's largest software company, for years. Those who vaguely recall the name tend to associate it with the company's knowledge management software of a decade ago. Or more recently, they may think of the Aurasma iPhone application released this year, which recognizes images (such as movie posters) in the real world and swaps in videos for those images in real time.

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The latter technology points to the company's core intellectual property: so-called meaning-based recognition. Autonomy excels at enterprise search and language recognition using Bayesian techniques originally developed by the company's eccentric yet charismatic CEO Mike Lynch. The core of Autonomy's business is in applying meaning-based recognition to identify compliance-sensitive documents and classify them for archiving, where they can be searched using the same Bayesian methods.

A little-known fact is that the company operates one of the world's largest public clouds, containing petabytes of its customers' compliance-sensitive material. Earlier this year, IDC identified Autonomy as the fastest-growing search and discovery vendor -- and Autonomy doubled down in the space when it announced its intent to buy Iron Mountain's digital services business in May.

Given Autonomy's unique intellectual property and its leadership in an area strategic to the next phase of computing, I've wondered for years why the company remained independent. A company that has enjoyed major success in enterprise search and compliance -- and a big cloud business to boot -- helps forward HP's strategic direction, as outlined by CEO Léo Apotheker shortly after he took the reins at HP.

What maybe even more important, however, is how that technology might be leveraged by HP in enhancing the way humans interact with computers. The push on that frontier, most people would agree, has proceeded slower than anticipated; HAL 9000 still seems a long way off. To me, Autonomy's meaning-based recognition technology has always seemed to have limitless possibility -- as the whizzy Aurasma technology amply illustrates. HP is making a very smart buy.

This article, "Why Autonomy is a smart buy for HP," 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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