7 Things We Learned About HPE CEO Antonio Neri

Neri's Technology Vision: A Data-Driven, Edge-Centric, Cloud Enabled Enterprise

From speaking four languages to personally designing the interior of the new Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters, CEO Antonio Neri is a true renaissance man.

Neri, who has spearheaded many technology breakthroughs during his 23-year career at HPE including the Apollo high-performance computer and the in-memory computing standout Superdome X, spoke during a Best of Breed conference appearance about his innovation-charged vision for a data-driven, edge-centric, cloud-enabled future.

"[The edge] is a huge opportunity," Neri told solution providers in a keynote interview session at CRN parent The Channel Company's BoB Conference in Philadelphia last week. "About 75 percent of the data is created at the edge and it starts with connectivity, security and ultimately how we process data in real time. And that’s why as we think of the future of enterprise, we see an edge-centric, cloud-enabled enterprise."

The starting point for delivering big gains in the edge-centric future is selling products and services from Aruba, an HPE company, said Neri, the driving force behind HPE's 2015 acquisition of Aruba.

"Aruba is a platform-based company," said Neri. "At the core, it’s all about the software and the experiences we provide through that software."

Here are seven things we learned about HPE CEO Antonio Neri during his 2018 BoB Conference appearance.

Neri Is Personally Designing The Interior Of HPE's New San Jose Headquarters

Neri, who has been credited with driving a rising tide of optimism and energy among HPE employees, is personally designing the interior of HPE's new San Jose, Calif., headquarters.

"We are really focused on the culture to the extreme," Neri said. "And to give you a perspective, we're going to move to a new headquarters, and I'm personally designing the interior because I believe that's how you impact the culture—the way that people work."

HPE's new campus, which is expected to open next year in the February-March time frame, will be a "state-of-the- art digital experience," promised Neri, who is also a professor of painting and drawing.

At the heart of the HPE culture is fast-paced innovation, said Neri, who after his BoB conference interview was off to do a full-day product road map review with his engineering team.

"Innovation is priority No.1, and culture comes with it," said Neri. "My three priorities as CEO are very simple: It's about culture, our innovation, and our execution. On the culture side, we now have 60,000 employees that have a totally different perspective than maybe 15 months ago. And I see it because I go everywhere. In fact, last week I was in Singapore, I was in Sweden, I was in Germany. You can see it, and the feedback we are getting [from employees] is much stronger than ever before."

Neri Speaks Four Languages

Neri, who was born in Argentina, speaks four languages: Italian, Spanish, Dutch and English.

When asked how he learned four languages, Neri replied: "It's very simple. My parents are both Sicilians, they were born and raised in Sicily and immigrated to Argentina. I was born in Argentina, so I did most of my studies in Argentina. And then I met this girl, and I moved to Holland, so I had to learn Dutch. And then when I joined HP in 1995, I was asked to support servers and routers and switches in Italian and Spanish."

When Neri took the HPE call center job in 1995, the Jamaican call center manager was so impressed by Neri's technical skills that he hired him on the spot even though Neri did not speak English. "We can teach him English," the call center leader told the team at the time. "We need someone who is strong technically."

Even though Neri speaks four languages, his wife, Caroline, who he first met at the HPE call center, speaks six languages. "So I'm still behind," said Neri. "It's a conversation topic in which I lose all the time."

Neri Is Stepping Up HPE's Artificial Intelligence, Data-Driven March

" We are in the business of data management, not storage," Neri told BoB conference attendees. "You're going to see going forward a tremendous shift in the way we think about data management."

The scope of the opportunity for business-outcome-driven data management solutions is off the charts given the big data explosion, said Neri. "What I'm excited about for the future is that as we think about a data-driven approach, we believe that two years from now we are going to generate twice the amount of data that we generated in the entire human history," said Neri.

"More and more, you're going to see a focus on software and a focus on AI," said Neri, an engineer who has been been credited with accelerating HPE product, service and even business model innovation "Our view of the future is that whatever you deploy on-prem has to be autonomous in many ways. And so we have this concept of AI Ops that we're going to deploy, and that's acquisitions like Nimble, which brought us InfoSight [AI-based predictive analytics software], and now InfoSight is the back-end platform for management of infrastructure so we can do predictive analytics and solve problems before they happen."

InfoSight, which proactively resolves storage issues and dramatically reduces IT storage operating expenses, already runs on both Nimble and HPE 3Par all-flash arrays. HPE is moving it across its entire product line including SimpliVity, Synergy, ProLiant and GreenLake consumption-based services platform.

Neri urged solution providers to lead with InfoSight to drive business-outcome, data-driven solutions for customers. "If you lead with that, you have a better conversation with customers, because then what sits underneath is optimized to the workload, not the other way around," he said. "Because you have to start with apps that are not infrastructure apps. And that's the biggest shift collectively we have to make. And that's where I'm really focused right now with my team. And that's where we talk about data management, not just storing data. And that's what customers are looking for."

Neri Sees Embedded Security As Major Competitive Advantage For HPE

Embedded security in HPE infrastructure offerings along with a comprehensive security software portfolio that includes Aruba ClearPass and Plexxi's data fabric is a major technology differentiator for HPE, said Neri.

One of the biggest security breakthroughs is HPE's Silicon Root of Trust, which is built into the ASIC for HPE Gen10 servers including ProLiant, Synergy, HPE BladeSystem and Apollo. "Security is a very complex topic," said Neri. "We think about it embedded in our solutions, and not as an afterthought. So obviously, it starts at the infrastructure level."

Neri said the allegations recently that some servers were compromised by a chip on a motherboard highlight the need for embedded security. "Think about what happened last week with people potentially penetrating infrastructure," said Neri. "We feel that we have an obligation to these customers to not only deliver the best compute internal performance and cost with power consumption, density and new technologies, but security. And that's why we developed with our Gen10 platform the ‘Silicon Root of Trust’ because then we can actually monitor what's happening to the server at the root level."

HPE also has built security into its ever-expanding software portfolio including ClearPass and Plexxi, said Neri.

In addition, HPE is pursuing software partnerships to extend the breadth and depth of its security offerings. "In the case of Aruba, we open the APIs to the platform to Palo Alto Networks to support because networking is a whole different game," said Neri. "But that's why Plexxi brings also a security aspect in their data fabric. So the way we're thinking about this is building that security within the solution embedded at the core, from the infrastructure to the software layers, all the way to exposing them to the app. And as we go along, obviously, we're going to teach our partners how to sell it."

Neri Has HPE Sharply Focused On Fast Innovation And Simple Architectures

Neri, who played a key role in sharpening HPE's focus after the historic split with HP Inc. in 2015, said HPE is focused squarely on being leaner, nimble and more focused in an era in which customers are demanding fast innovation and simple architectures.

A key part of the HPE strategy is Neri's Next initiative—a massive reimagining of HPE designed to give the company the ultimate competitive advantage in a market moving at lightning speed.

Under the Next initiative, HPE has dramatically simplified its value and volume infrastructure product lines, reducing the number of SKUs by a whopping 75 percent. "It's all about putting our people in a position to respond quickly and, therefore, improve productivity, improve coverage, improve the ability to make money faster," said Neri.

One of the key elements of the Next initiative is a faster time to quote for partners teaming with HPE on product and services sales.

"I've been with many of the partners, and to quote some of them, it cannot take more than five or seven minutes [to get a price quote]," said Neri. "You want instant gratification, instant pricing."

Under Neri, HPE has made that faster time to quote a top priority, with the company retiring an older price to quote system in favor of a mobile cloud-enabled platform. "Our reps and our partners need to have the ability to quote on a mobile phone," he said. "And so we're going to get that next year for the first time."

Neri Sees HPE Competitors Hitting A Hardware Wall

Neri, who led the strategy and development teams for HPE's SuperDome X, considered the world's most scalable in-memory compute platform, sees HPE's aggressive memory-driven computing road map as a major competitive advantage in the years ahead.

In fact, Neri said Moore's Law—the maxim that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years, resulting in exponential increases in processing power—has hit a wall.

"We have been talking about the fact that Moore’s Law is going to hit a wall," said Neri, reflecting on the current state of processor development and manufacturing. "I mean less than 10 nanometers [the current state-of-the-art size of Intel processors]. Then I think we'll see 7 [nanometer, maybe 4 nanometers] and then after that, what? You’re going to have it implanted in your head? It’s not going to work. And the issue is that every time we do that obviously we're trying to manage the cost of power consumption, but the reality is it’s not scaling at the same pace that data is scaling. And so that means you have to glue things together to catch where that data curves. And so we thought about how we do that and we moved the computational side above the data, not below the data. And that’s why we have to make memory and storage the core of the architecture."

HPE's all-out memory-driven computing offensive is also destined to pay big dividends on the security front, said Neri. "The more we go to memory-driven compute, everything in that transaction is going to be encrypted," he said. "You have an unbelievable opportunity here. When we sell our memory-driven compute platforms by 2020, every aspect of that is already taken care of. It's all encrypted at the core, from the app down to the infrastructure."

Stress-Free With A Strong Team

Neri, who refers to his appointment as CEO as a "dream come true," said that he does not consider his job stressful.

"Actually, it's not, when you're convinced of something and you have a group of people working with you," said Neri when questioned about the pressure of the CEO job. "I just spent an entire weekend with my staff and their spouses. We just brought them together for three days. We worked a little bit, but we also had a lot of fun. There is a sense of community and focus on the mission. And I feel very good about that. And it takes a team. Obviously, it doesn't take one man. The CEO job is the most lonely job you can find. But when you have a group of people that are committed, and that care about pleasing customers and partners with a clear strategy, it's all about execution. So for me, it hasn't been incredibly stressful."