VDI in the Cloud at HP Discover 2011

A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to attend HP Discover 2011 in Vienna. AppSense was one of the exhibitors there and I presented our sponsor session at day 1. It was my first time at Discover and I must say that I was impressed: 7,000 attendees, 270 executive meetings and 533 track sessions combined with a big exhibition hall full of HP technology and partners from HP’s eco system.

Besides evangelizing attendees and HP staff about the value of AppSense User Virtualization, I spent some time trying to find out what HP’s story is around desktop remoting and desktop virtualization in combination with their cloud offerings. I’ve seen cool HP equipment before at several Microsoft Tech-Ed RemoteFX Pavilions and Shawn Bass and I had a look at HP’s RGS remoting protocol. Being at Discover, I thought I can see more of this stuff. But during my first hours in the exhibition hall, I wasn’t able to find that kind of technology displayed to the audience. So I went to the keynote session together with the bloggers from the App-V community, hoping to learn more about HP’s activities in “my” technology area.

Yves de Talhouet, SVP Enterprise Business and MD at HP EMEA opened the keynote session. He promised that we would learn three things: HP’s view of the industry, how to connect business challenges to the IT trends and real showcases how HP can help on this journey. Then he made an interesting statement, saying that “we don’t believe in information technology, but we believe in the power of people”. Wow, HP claiming that people – or users – are the center of what they are doing was new to me.

HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman was next on stage. Right at the beginning she said that “she wants to get the drama at HP out of the headlines and the great HP products into the headlines”. A little later she presented a counter on the big screen that showed 9 weeks, 1 day, 20 hours, 15 min and some seconds, which was exactly the time since she started heading HP until that very moment. Meg Whitman said that she has been using this time to identify HP’s strengths. Her result was that the core of HP is the infrastructure, like servers, printers and PCs. In other words, she said that she has killed her predecessor’s business strategy and instead wants to make sure that HP stays the world’s largest provider of information technology infrastructure. On top of the infrastructure foundation there are additional layers representing software to expand, optimize and manage the HP core, services wrapping around HP’s infrastructure and technology, and finally solutions that make it all work. HP claims that they can provide everything on premise, outsourced or in a private, hybrid or public cloud and that they can deliver this on any device. In essence, HP says they are doing literally everything around IT with a strong focus on everything below the operating system or the hypervisor.

With that knowledge, I took a slightly different approach when trying to find remote desktop technology after returning to the exhibition hall, called “Discover Zone”. I thought that asking one simple question at different places of the exhibition hall would lead me to the right answers. First, I went to the partner stands of Citrix, Riverbed and Microsoft. As you can imagine, it was relatively easy to find a person who was an adequate conversation partner at Citrix and Riverbed. At Microsoft, however, it was a little bit tougher as the guys there were focusing on Hyper-V and Windows 7 only; unfortunately they had no clue about VDI and RemoteFX – and what Microsoft can do with HP in these areas.

Next I moved on to the HP Cloud and Hybrid Delivery zone, first to the Build (=Rack) area and then to the Transform area. There I bumped into an HP guy who asked me in a very friendly way if he can help me. I said “Yes, what’s your virtual desktop strategy for large customers”. His answer was “Oh, that’s simple. You build one desktop master image and provide copies for all users on a virtualization platform. That’s it”. Then he looked at me with a big happy smile on his face. I assume that he was absolutely convinced that he just shared a career-changing secret with me. I was so stunned that I wasn’t able to talk for a couple of seconds. For a moment I thought “If I only had known that it was so easy! If I only had asked HP earlier, I would have never worried about the success of VDI projects in the past”. But then I replied to the guy “Well, I heard about VDI projects that are somewhat more complicated”. His answer was very simple again, saying “If users want their desktops with individual configurations and application sets, I wouldn’t recommend using VDI”. Maybe the guy was much smarter than I thought, but I decided not to continue this conversation and move on instead.

My next stop was in the Services zone where I had a short chat with a nice guy from HP Integration, Deployment and Technical Services. He brought me to one of his colleagues from HP Infrastructure Technology Outsourcing who was very knowledgeable regarding VDI. We had a very good conversation about several aspects of hosting virtual desktops in the cloud. He also explained to me that HP is trying to avoid Microsoft System Center for hybrid clouds as they prefer to use their Business Technology Optimization product suite (formerly known as OpenView) instead. Only for infrastructure outsourcing, their customers may dictate the usage of System Center. It’s the typical coopetition scenario in these cases, a fact that explains a lot of what I was seeing and what I was *not* seeing at Discover.

At this stage I wanted to take a look at the HP management products, so I walked over to the Converged Infrastructure zone. There I learned about infrastructure and virtualization management with HP Insight Control. After that I returned back to the Cloud and Hybrid Delivery zone where I met with Ed Ellis, who is an HP technical expert for cloud and desktop virtualization. So finally I was talking to someone who was able to give me more insight into what HP is doing around VDI. And Ed showed me one of their servers with nVidia GPU extension cards they were using for VDI demos at Discover. So in the end I really found the hardware I was looking for in the middle of this gigantic IT zoo.

Wow, what a journey through the Discover Zone. I assume that the fact that I had no knowledge about the HP terminology was part of the challenge. Sometimes I felt like an alien from outer space who landed on planet HP. It’s such diversity on this planet that none of its inhabitants can possibly know all aspects of their biosphere. And I didn’t know where to start searching for the information I was particularly interested in. But in the end, I had some great conversations. Maybe HP should provide a glossary for newbies like me, with guiding lines where to go and who to talk to first if you want to know about a particular topic. Cloud computing has so many aspects for a company like HP that hosting virtual desktops in the cloud is just a sideline for them. But it definitely looks like HP will be playing a significant role in the cloud and virtualization market.