Microsoft, HP Announce New Cloud Partnership, But Few Details


Talk about a heavyweight card. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard rolled out their high-profile CEOs Wednesday to pitch a new technology stack collaboration for the data center that will see $250 million invested by the companies over three years and focus largely on cloud computing.

"The world is accelerating and the movement to modern data center approaches is absolutely accelerating. [And] that really means a movement to a cloud model based upon well-defined and well-integrated virtualization and management approaches," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, explaining why the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant was entering the partnership with Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP at this time.

Calling it "the deepest level of collaboration and integration and technical work" that Microsoft and HP have every embarked on, HP CEO Mark Hurd added, "It was time for us to really align our enterprise businesses."

The two technology giants promised that "dynamic IT solutions" will result from their renewed partnership, particularly in areas like virtualization, e-mail and database management for both public and private cloud computing. The plan is to better integrate Microsoft products like Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Hyper-V with HP's server, storage and networking hardware. After such integrated technology stacks appear, the two companies also pledged to work more closely together on go-to-market efforts and ongoing service opportunities.

But absent any actual product announcements or specific go-to-market details associated with what Microsoft and HP are calling "a new infrastructure-to-application model," some industry observers and even the vendors' own channel partners were left wondering what's underneath the bluster.

"This is nothing Earth-shattering. No more than HP's relationships with Oracle and SAP," said Dhruv Gulati, executive vice president of Lilien Systems, a Larkspur, Calif.-based solution provider and long-time HP partner.

Facing similar skepticism while taking questions from reporters, HP CEO Mark Hurd insisted that the new arrangement was not just one more in a long line of integrated, bundled data center technology stacks from HP and Microsoft.

"There's a difference between a bundle and the opportunity now on how deep it gets integrated and how much true engineering work gets done," Hurd said. But he also admitted that "maybe that gets lost a little just in the words."

Hurd also played up the benefits of the Microsoft collaboration for channel partners of both companies.

"One of the big issues if you're a channel partner is ease of doing business, simplicity, promotion, etcetera," he said. "All of that gets optimized here. The fact that I can now get a bundled solution that's been tested, that's been optimized, that's got collateral material around it, that's got promotion dollars aligned to it, that's aligned to both sales forces, you've now just simplified my life enormously."

Hurd had a reliable backer on that front in John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, a Redmond, Wash.-based system integrator and channel partner of both vendors.

Describing the HP-Microsoft strategic alignment as "a marriage made in channel heaven," Convery was especially upbeat about the promise of dedicated channel sales teams for the project, as well as resource and funding support for partners like Denali.

At the same time, some industry watchers wondered whether Wednesday's announcement was a shot across the bows of certain competitors of either Microsoft or HP. That's not the case, according to Hurd.

"I wouldn't want you to think of this as a reaction to anything," he said when asked if the arrangement with Microsoft represented HP "backing off" from its partnership with companies like Oracle and VMware.

Ballmer was faced with a similar question about the meaning of the HP alliance to Microsoft's partnerships with other hardware makers like IBM and Dell.

"We don't have a lot going on with IBM, so let me get the record straight on that," Ballmer said. "We're driving out aggressively with Hewlett-Packard. We're going to do a heckuva lot more together with HP. We respect that HP's still going to work with guys that we compete with and that we're going to work with guys that HP competes with."

Until "a heckuva lot" produces something tangible, one solution provider partner of both companies described the announcement as so much hot air, a monetarily significant but otherwise standard reaffirmation that -- surprise, surprise -- the world's largest hardware manufacturer and its biggest software maker work closely to ensure that their respective products play well together.

But the solution provider, who asked not to be named, conceded that "over time," the HP-Microsoft deal could make an impact on the market.

"They will come up with a strategy. But right now it is all noise," he said.

Joseph F. Kovar and Steven Burke contributed to this article.