The big news out of HPE’s earnings call on Thursday—that a major service provider customer singlehandedly dinged HPE server revenue
by buying less gear than it committed to—is another in a string of bad omens for the company. Normal enterprises are buying fewer boxes and moving to the cloud, while cloud providers are just buying fewer boxes from HPE.
If HPE can’t beat the cloud providers, it should at least try to make some money off of them. And buying its way into the container space could be a good way to do it. Hear me out …
According to Gartner, and pretty much everybody else, the server market is on a downhill slide
and HPE is getting hit particularly hard. And things aren’t going to get better. Even if the great exodus to the cloud somehow slowed down (it won’t), the great migration to microservices is still happening. This is an oversimplification but, generally speaking, forward-thinking companies want fewer machines running more things inside of containers.
Realistically, many companies actually want to do both of these things—move their workloads to the cloud and build applications using containers and microservices. This makes their applications more flexible, more efficient, more scalable and more portable.
Portability could be a key factor for the large number of enterprises that have not yet moved to the cloud in any significant manner. Containers and container-management platforms provide, in theory, an abstraction layer that can save companies a lot of rebuilding effort should they want to move applications from one provider to another, or potentially deploy applications across clouds.
Beyond partnerships and investments (including in my former employer, Mesosphere), HPE doesn’t have a play in either of these markets at the moment. But it should. There should be a lot of money to be made helping large companies move to microservices while they also move to the cloud, especially if you can sell them on the promise of portability (or, for the cynics, on the avoidance of lock-in).
Let the cloud providers worry about selling infrastructure, while you rake in the margins at the management/OS/application layers. And for as long as selling servers is still a business worth being in, having a strong container-management system baked into HPE gear could be a nice value-add. It makes it more of a solution or a platform sale than just a server sale, if you will.
The OpenStack approach to private cloud software might have been a letdown for HPE, but the approach exemplified by Pivotal, Mesosphere, Docker, Kubernetes (pick a company, or the whole project) and their peers is legit, even if it’s still maturing. This is how people want to build applications and think about infrastructure. Buying its way into an entirely new worldview would be a bold move for HPE, but maybe it’s better to risk burning out than to almost certainly fade away.