Hewlett-Packard articulated the shape of its next-generation enterprise at a California conference last week and will create a new computing colossus with the likes of Cisco Systems, EMC, and Oracle.
These four companies and eventually others will cooperate to deliver an "information utility" composed of "apps on tap", leased and fee- for-usage enterprise computing power, and a panoply of computing appliances connected to an Internet-based IT infrastructure.
"It will all be based on a set of simple abstractions rather than a complex infrastructure," said Bill Russell, vice president and general manager of HP's enterprise systems group. "It will be a simple framework for PCs, appliances, servers, and enterprise computing. This will get right to the heart of total cost of ownership."
The four companies are cooperating to provide technology pieces for the high-availability capability that an information utility requires.
These companies are currently linking their products both by optimising the various hardware platforms for interoperability, and also by merging their various software controllers at the source-code level. The companies view the combined hardware and software as development stacks and will conduct both areas in unison, releasing upgrades and revisions in tandem whenever possible. Other vendors will join this core group when appropriate.
HP is now delivering early elements of its enterprise plan. The company recently announced its new A and R server lines, tar-geted at ISPs, which, along with telecommunications companies, will be at the vanguard of providing the information utility.
New servers and other traditional HP-UX and Windows NT units, which house databases and enterprise resource planning applications that access vast storage capacities, will form the back end of the information utility. Constituting many of the services provided by ISPs and telecommunications companies, these services will be available through HP's ISP partners within months.
At the front end of this enterprise is HP's biggest surprise of all: a multitude of cheap, single-purpose appliances, combining varied computing, communications, and imaging technologies, some of which will be used independently and others that will "tap in" to the information utility.
"There is an explosion, a proliferation of devices, [potentially] out there," said Lew Platt, HP's CEO. "Many highly specialised appliances like that are going to emerge, instead of appliances that collapse everything back into a single multipurpose, relatively expensive device. You buy them anywhere you want. They are inexpensive, they break and you throw them out, and you don't have to read a manual. That's not such a bad world to think about."