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HP creeps to brink of enterprise innovations

Deep in the heart of Texas we're chilling this week, (sub-freezing temps until Saturday) but out in California the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard is heating up a push toward innovations. One week from today the company will introduce strategy for webOS, the operating system purchased along with Palm last year. HP's been selling its Slate tablet as an enterprise solution, but that hardware and software looks far behind the promise of the HP's Topaz tablet.

Meanwhile, between webOS strategy and CEO Leo Apotheker's keynote at this June's HP Discover event, HP's chief will host a media event March 14. The subject of HP's presser, called a "March summit meeting," is unknown. But analysts and editors believe that Apotheker's SAP background, and HP's lag in software for business intelligence, will trigger some software announcements.

Driving OpenEnterpriseHP used to host this kind of press meeting in the richer days of 3000 business. We brought the NewsWire into HP's view at such an event, where we finagled an invitation to the Driving the Open Enterprise briefings. Back in 1995, that $25 billion HP used to quote revenue per employee. That's a metric that is much improved by software offerings your vendor creates, versus device sales or acquired products. The company spent almost 8 percent of its revenues on R&D, compared to the 3 percent of today.

HP's software record is uneven, to the point of having nowhere to go but up in some estimates. The company put its NeoView business intelligence appliance out to pasture recently. "Our customers are demanding options for addressing an emerging set of requirements around the explosive growth of data, new types of information, new classes of analytics and new delivery models," an HP statement explained. This was the other shoe dropping once HP and Microsoft announced new SQL Server data warehousing appliances in January.

What's helped HP gain its focus? The march of most competitors toward BI profits and beating HP at this business. HP sold only 100 or so NeoView installs, while newcomers have four times as many wins. Oracle turned up the heat with Exadata offerings, something former HP CEO Mark Hurd is now pushing against his old employer. Yes, the same company that provided icy sales of BI under Hurd's own tenure.

HP's partners and allies are hoping that a new look from the new CEO will change the fortunes of soft products paired with HP's hardware -- the elements of an appliance. HP can toss in the HP Enterprise Cloud Services-Compute service to adjust the hardware costs of such BI. The cloud solution will span parts of HP's complementary product lines, including servers and prices based on on MIPS. Yes, Millions of Instructions Per Second. A return to older models has been profitable for HP's rival IBM.

Widespread belief in older solutions is still a core creed among IBM leaders, as well as some of the HP 3000 customer base using an OS that was last updated in any way during 2007. IBM's centennial cinema offering, They Were There, includes one quote about the System 360 OS revolution that reverberates today in airline reservation websites. Shep Nachbar, retired programmer for the SABRE System project, remains proud of how long these software designs have served IBM.

"You can't beat this old dog that was designed 50 years ago, even with the modern tools we have today," says an IBM Alliance Partner in the film. Run by New York's 911 service, the Chicago Board of Trade and Amtrak, the software -- reworked but still running on a mainframe platform -- counts five decades of service. The enterprise solution "was so resilient that we can't do any better today," the partner says. Software designed for 84,000 phone calls per day now handles 30,000 transactions per second, working as the front end for Expedia and Travelocity websites.

An older and familiar face from the 3000 and Unix ops at HP might rise up as a result of this software heat wave. Ann Livermore, who's led HP's Enterprise Business unit as a VP, may join the HP board as a director. She was a serious candidate for CEO back when the board picked Carly Fiorina. It's hard to say what might have happened to HP's software efforts, enterprise success or profits per employee if Livermore had won that board seat by becoming CEO more than a decade ago. Maybe the HP moves will take its enteprise innovations off the ice.