HP-Microsoft Cloud Partnership Needs To Show Us The Goods

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"Deeds, not words." That was the mantra of an old boss of mine, a hard-charging newspaper editor of the old school who would deliver the saying whenever he thought somebody was shining him on, which was pretty much all the time.

With that in mind, what are we to think of this week's blustery announcement from Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard that the two tech heavyweights are embarking upon a new partnership on cloud computing? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and HP CEO Mark Hurd led a Wednesday press conference to pitch the initiative -- with big guns like that leading the charge, this must be a pretty big deal, right?

Not so fast. What we heard from Microsoft and HP was a lot of big talk but not a lot in the way of details. We heard a lot of maddeningly vague marketing speak about "aligning" efforts in the data center to prepare for the cloud revolution, but next to zero on actual products or even a product roadmap.

To be fair, CNET reports that there is a "pre-configured HP server with Microsoft's SQL Server database software" aimed at SMBs on offer as part of the new initiative. But that's pretty thin gruel for interested parties who justifiably expected more out of the gate from "the deepest level of collaboration and integration and technical work" that Microsoft and HP have ever embarked on, as Hurd put it.

Deeds not words. Or at the very least, better words. At one point Wednesday, under questioning from reporters, Hurd was forced to admit that the ones he was using didn't seem to be doing the job in communicating his message.

Part of the reason for that is that HP and Microsoft offered no context for the work they were embarking upon.

Microsoft and HP talked up some gaudy numbers -- specifically, the two companies will be investing $250 million over three years to better integrate Microsoft products like Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Hyper-V with HP's server, storage and networking hardware, while devoting 11,000 sales reps to pushing the resulting bundled technology stacks.

But those numbers are only impressive if we understand them in context, and so far, we're not aware of Microsoft or HP offering any. The $250 million seems like a large sum, but how much did the two companies spend on similar efforts between their respective data center product and sales units in the previous three years? Is this a doubling of that earlier investment? A trebling? We'd like to be impressed by this investment, but it's difficult when Microsoft and HP won't tell us what it even means.

And what does this all mean in the context of the two companies' partnerships with other technology vendors? Hurd seemed to downplay the effect of the Microsoft cloud collaboration on HP's relationships with partners like Oracle and VMware. Ballmer did much the same with regards to Microsoft's dealings with HP competitors like Dell.

So let's get this straight. We've got a collaboration on cloud computing between the world's biggest hardware company and its biggest software company that so far has yielded one product bundle, that may or may not be much different from the work the two have done together previously, and that isn't going to impact each others' competitors much at all.

Did we really need to spend a whole morning with Steve Ballmer and Mark Hurd to learn this? Is that really a message that deserved so much fanfare?

As Ashlee Vance of The New York Times put it so aptly, the core communication seemed to be "that Microsoft and HP have formed a really, really, really tight relationship that supersedes their previous really, really tight relationship."

This isn't to say that in a year's time, customers won't be snapping up Microsoft-HP cloud computing bundles as fast as two tech titans can roll them out. That's certainly a strong possibility when you're talking about two such successful, sales-driven companies with robust channel partner pipelines.

Here's the deal -- if such deeds do come to pass, we'll be happy to listen to whatever words Microsoft and HP want to use to celebrate them.

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