HPE debuts the hybrid cloud container system

In context: few subjects are as warm as hybrid cloud and cloud-native containerized applications in the enterprise computing world. Practically every company that sells IT to enterprise now seems to have a product and/or perspective that speaks directly to at least one of those fields, if not both.

Of example, most focus comes from software companies or larger conglomerates ‘ software divisions due to the critical role software plays in supporting such technologies. HP Enterprise (HPE) was clearly at a significant disadvantage as a corporation that has been recognized almost exclusively for hardware over the past several years— at least until it was revealed at the KubeCon conference this week.

The company unveiled a new Kubernetes-based tool called the HPE Container Platform in a move that was both shocking and inspiring, saying it will help organizations hurry their adoption of hybrid cloud architectures by allowing, among other things, old, non-native applications to be containerized and managed consistently. In particular, since the acquisition of VMWare by Dell Technologies, HPE has been seen by many as a corporation that embraced and evangelized the hybrid cloud theory, but did not really have the tools to support the dream. Nevertheless, with its Container Framework, HPE now has what appears to be a solid set of software tools that will allow organizations to tackle some of their major challenges related to the transformation of legacy software.

Unknown to many, over the past few years, HPE has purchased a number of smaller technology companies, most notably BlueData and MapR. It’s the combination of technology from those firms, mixed in with a healthy dose of simple, open source Kubernetes, that gave HPE the application skills it apparently needed to develop this new cloud-friendly hybrid system.

As HPE and many other companies have pointed out — and the market itself has begun to recognize— cloud-based software technologies and computing-as – a-service capabilities in the public cloud style are incredibly powerful, but they aren’t working for all kinds of applications and businesses. In fact, in most companies, IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) services are just a small percentage of the workloads. Because of prices, legislation, sophistication, information inertia (that is, the appeal of applications and services to large amounts of data, much of which has yet to move to the cloud due to storage costs, etc.) and, most significantly, the abundance of difficult-to-change legacy applications that still play an incredibly important role in enterprises, there has been a significant shift in thought recently.

Instead of thinking that everything would eventually move to the public cloud, there was a realization that for many years to come, a hybrid computing paradigm that embraces both the public cloud and on-premise private cloud will be with us as the mainstream alternative. In fact, there is still a large percentage of total workloads in computing that have little, if any, cloud connection at all.

On the one hand, this recognition gave the corporate computer technology companies such as HPE, Dell Technologies, Lenovo, Cisco, etc. a new sense of vigor that many had effectively written off as dead a couple of years ago when the general thinking seemed to be that everything was going to move into the public cloud. On the other hand, lessons have been learned from cloud computing’s consumer-based business models (e.g., HPE’s GreenLake announcements earlier in the year and last week’s Dell Technologies On Demand offering), as well as from containerized microservices ‘ cloud-based software development model. As Phil Davis of HPE points out briefly, “The cloud is not a destination — it is a model of experience and operation.”

The end result is that companies want to find ways to combine many of the benefits of this cloud-based operating model with the nature of their own on-premise hardware and existing systems, thus following the unique requirements of those older applications. HPE’s Container System, expected to be available in early 2020, aims to combine the two worlds by including older applications without having to go through the lengthy, tedious and costly process of updating or refactoring them.

More importantly, Container Platform offers the ability to run such containerized legacy applications (as well as standard containerized cloud-native applications) on bare metal servers without the expense of running virtual machines—a direct knock at Dell Technologies, and more specifically VMWare. However, the other aspect of the HPE Container Platform is that for such containerized legacy applications, it can also provide access to permanent storage. Most older apps require persistent space to run properly, but this is not a function that can be easily allowed by containers. As a result, most devices were stopped from being modernized and migrated to the cloud by this one condition. By addressing this need directly, HPE believes it can work with its customer base— who is more likely to run legacy applications anyway — to move them into a container-based unified environment. That, in turn, should allow them to manage their applications more easily in a consistent manner, thus saving IT organizations costs and reducing complexity.

The logic and vision behind this new platform approach are sound, and it is exciting to see HPE jump back into the software world with a significant new leap. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how well the organization will persuade its technology acumen and its ability to function as a core supplier of software platforms for potential customers. For some clients, the HPE Container Platform’s features sound like they might be really appealing, but the business software landscape is extremely complex and fragmented. Others with significant established investments in other platforms can find it more difficult to make a change. Nevertheless, this seems like HPE and its management team’s strong strategic step, and one that will clearly point the company in some interesting and exciting new directions.

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