At HP Summit a couple of days ago, David Donatelli, Executive VP, Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking said, “How do we build this? Essentially from a sofware point of view, the cloud system is built upon HP’s BladeSystem Matrix which is a software technology now that we’ve been shipping for more than 18 months. We have literally thousands of customers running this around the world. It enables them to manage their entire infrastructure nondisruptively as one big common pool which is basically what a cloud is”. (http://www.visualwebcaster.com/HP/76709/event.html 01:35:35)
I was very surprised to learn that HP now has thousands of Matrix customers. Even in the presumably unlikely case that none have more than one unit, this means there are a whole lot of Matrix sales going on. I called several HP partners to get their perspectives. Most are not selling many, if any, of the BladeSystem Matrix. One who does appear to be having quite a bit of success with the product still would have guessed that Matrix customers might be in the hundreds, but not the thousands.
A Tweet yesterday morning by Stu Merriman’s (@stu) offered a possible explanation for the partner confusion. He asked HP about the Matrix, and the response he received was that most sales are made via HP’s direct sales force to large customers. While large enterprises are not our only focus, it does seem strange that we seldom run up against HP Matrix in our sales efforts, and I hear this same refrain from other Cisco partners. It would seem that with thousands of customers that the Matrix impact should be more prominent, and that we should see the Matrix showing up in more data centers.
Likewise, with such a quick ramp-up in sales, Matrix should be generating a much bigger buzz around the industry. As a comparison, Cisco UCS jumped from 900 customers last July to 4,000 at the end of last quarter. As might be expected, a Google Blog search on “Cisco UCS” returned 12,100 hits including many posts by integrators and customers describing their real-life experiences with the product. The same Google blog search on HP Matrix, however, produced only 306 hits. And I could find very few blog posts that reference an actual implementation.
Integrated Computing Stacks
The BladeSystem Matrix is HP’s entry into the new, but rapidly growing, category of integrated computing stacks. These stacks combine virtualization, computing, networking, storage, and system management in order to enable ItaaS, otherwise known as private clouds. While some products such as VCE’s Vblock and NetApp’s FlexPod combine solutions from multiple manufacturers, others such as HP Matrix, IBM Cloudburst, Dell Virtual Integration System and Oracle Exalogic rely on one manufacturer.
Integrated stacks, being a new category, are not necessarily easy to define as they vary greatly in composition between manufacturers. Making matters more complex are the differing ways in which manufacturers handle the inevitable customer requests for configurations that stray from the certified standards. It is my experience as a Vblock partner, for example, that VCE only will certify a Vblock shipped as such, and that only very minor alterations in the standard configurations are tolerated.
Initially and as recently as last July, HP took a similarly hard line approach with BladeSystem Matrix, requiring a 60 hour on-site engagement by HP Implementation Service. Partners were not able to be certified and customers were unable to upgrade any software or firmware in the solution and still be in a supported configuration. I estimated, after speaking with both current and former HP employees, that Matrix had no more than 60 – 75 implementations at that time.
Since July, HP has appeared to take a much more relaxed approach in regard to what constitutes a Matrix. On December 10, 2010 HP announced the HP BladeSystem Matrix Conversion Services which appears from the brochure to be a 2-day engagement that, along with purchasing additional products, converts existing HP blades into “a complete, fully supported HP BladeSystem Matrix environment.” One possibility for Donatelli’s remarks, therefore, is that HP has very quickly converted thousands of blade customers into Matrix customers.
Waiting for the Answer
On Tuesday, I asked Burston-Marsteller, a firm that does public relations for HP, if they could explain Donatelli’s number. The PR firm promptly replied that they reached out to HP for clarification. I am eager to see what the official response will be, but my guess – and it is only a guess – is that some of the growth has been attributable to a direct sales force emphasis and some due to conversions, but the biggest increase is due to the way in which HP counts Matrix sales. Since the Matrix is essentially a rebranding of existing HP products, it would be easy to justify counting an organization with a substantial number of Matrix components as a Matrix customer.
Author Disclosure: I work for a leading Cisco partner.