SAN FRANCISCO -- Computer giant HP (NYSE: HPQ) firmly believes in the future of cloud computing, but in a panel session for the media here at the VMworld conference Tuesday, company executives put the oft-hyped cloud in perspective.
"These are the early days of cloud computing, maybe equivalent to when the World Wide Web first started appearing on the Internet," said HP technology director Nigel Cook. "You're going to see change and pretty rapid growth ahead."
A few of the areas Cook sees changing near term is a move to standardizing how users interact with the cloud and also how it's priced. "How you buy the cloud is going to evolve dramatically as people move random selections of storage and servers," he said, pointing to the growth of interest in so-called private clouds to replace traditional data centers.
Specifically, Cook said he expects mobile data centers built into shipping containers, first popularized by Sun, as a standard way to buy a system of, for example, 1,500 servers and storage.
"Think of it becoming like a unit of measure, like buying a rack of servers," added Lee Kedrie, chief brand officer and evangelist at HP Global Technology Consulting. "You can buy a pod" or container that houses the private cloud infrastructure.
This kind of standardization promises to help smooth enterprise adoption of cloud systems that currently don't conform to traditional infrastructure resource management and billing systems. For example, a key benefit of the cloud is that you only use and pay for what you need. But in a traditional data center, IT budgets a set amount of storage and servers based on projected needs.
"CIOs are concerned with the design and financial architecture of how it [cloud services] moves across the organization," said Jamie Erbes, CTO for HP's Software and Solutions business. "That conversation often happens after installation and it's hard to retrofit the IT budgeting across the enterprise."
HP unveiled CloudStart earlier this week, a package of consulting services, software and hardware designed to help enterprises set up a private cloud within 30 days.
Erbes said private clouds and so-called hybrid clouds (a private cloud that also accesses public cloud services), promise to extend the reach of today's data center to more endpoint devices. "There is so much going on on the edge. You can even think of your car as a mobile device," said Erbes. "It's the whole idea of the Internet of things that the cloud enables that's exciting."
In a gimmick presumably meant to convey their expertise, the HP execs all wore white lab coats. Each speaker spoke glowingly about cloud computing's potential in general and HP's opportunity specifically.
Challenges remain, including concerns about security, but Kedrie said cloud systems have the potential to be even more secure than traditional data centers. "In spite of what you've heard about the security scenario, we have one customer in the military that says their cloud is already more secure than Google's," he said. "They've solved the security issue with appropriate boundaries."
Greg Ganger, a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University where HP helped build the first CloudStart private cloud in less than 30 days, said the move to a private cloud was simply logical.
"We have a lot of computing infrastructure spread across different groups. It's inefficient, but that's how universities evolve," said Ganger. "We convinced the university that we'd be much better off with a shared infrastructure."