HPE’s CEO lays out his technology vision

In an exclusive interview, HPE CEO Antonio Neri unpacks his portfolio of technology initiatives, from edge computing to tomorrow’s memory-driven architecture.

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Like Microsoft's Satya Nadella, HPE CEO Antonio Neri is a technologist with a long history of leading initiatives in his company. Meg Whitman, his former boss at HPE, showed her appreciation of Neri’s acumen by promoting him to HPE Executive Vice President in 2015 – and gave him the green light to acquire Aruba, SimpliVity, Nimble Storage, and Plexxi, all of which added key items to HPE’s portfolio.

Neri succeeded Whitman as CEO just 16 months ago. In a recent interview with Network World, Neri’s engineering background was on full display as he explained HPE’s technology roadmap. First and foremost, he sees a huge opportunity in edge computing, into which HPE is investing $4 billion over four years to further develop edge “connectivity, security, and obviously cloud and analytics.”

Although his company abandoned its public cloud efforts in 2015, Neri is also bullish on the self-service “cloud experience,” which he asserts HPE is already implementing on-prem today in a software-defined, consumption-driven model. More fundamentally, he believes we are on the brink of a memory-driven computing revolution, where storage and memory become one and, depending on the use case, various compute engines are brought to bear on zettabytes of data.

This interview, conducted by Network World Editor-in-Chief Eric Knorr and edited for length and clarity, digs into Neri’s technology vision. A companion interview on CIO centers on Neri’s views of innovation, management, and company culture.

Eric Knorr:  Your biggest and highest profile investment so far has been in edge computing. My understanding of edge computing is that we’re really talking about mini-data centers, defined by IDC as less than 100 square feet in size. What’s the need for a $4 billion investment in that?

Antonio Neri: It’s twofold. We focus first on connectivity. Think about Aruba as a platform company, a cloud-enabled company. Now we offer branch solutions and edge data center solutions that include wireless, LAN, WAN connectivity and soon 5G. We give you a control plane so that that connectivity experience can be seen consistently the same way. All the policy management, the provisioning and the security aspects of it.

Knorr: Is 5G a big focus?

Neri: It’s a big focus for us. What customers are telling us is that it’s hard to get 5G inside the building.  How you do hand off between 5G and Wi-Fi and give them the same experience? Because the problem is that we have LAN, wireless, and WAN already fully integrated into the control plane, but 5G sits over here. If you are an enterprise, you have to manage these two pipes independently.

With the new spectrum, though, they are kind of comingling anyway. [Customers ask] why don’t you give me [a unified] experience on top of that, with all this policy management and cloud-enablement, so I can provision the right connectivity for the right use case? A sensor can use a lower radio access or Bluetooth or other type of connectivity because you don’t need persistent connectivity and you don’t have the power to do it.

In some cases, you just put a SIM on it, and you have 5G, but in another one it’s just wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi connectivity is significantly lower cost than 5G. The use cases will dictate what type of connectivity you need, but the reality is they all want one experience. And we can do that because we have a great platform and a great partnership with MSPs, telcos, and providers.

Knorr: So it sounds like much of your investment is going into that integration.

Neri: The other part is how we provide the ability to provision the right cloud computing at the edge for the right use cases. Think about, for example, a manufacturing floor. We can converge the OT and IT worlds through a converged infrastructure aspect that digitizes the analog process into a digital process.  We bring the cloud compute in there, which is fully virtualized and containerized, we integrate Wi-Fi connectivity or LAN connectivity, and we eliminate all these analog processes that are multi-failure touchpoints because you have multiple things that have to come together.

That’s a great example of a cloud at the edge. And maybe that small cloud is connected to a big cloud which could be in the large data center, which the customer owns – or it can be one of the largest public cloud providers.

Knorr: It’s difficult to talk about the software-defined data center and private cloud without talking about VMware. Where do your software-defined solutions leave off and where does VMware begin?

Neri: Where we stop is everything below the hypervisor, including the software-defined storage and things like SimpliVity. That has been the advantage we’ve had with HPE OneView, so we can provision and manage the infrastructure-life-cycle and software-defined aspects at the infrastructure level. And let’s not forget security, because we’ve integrated silicon root of trust into our systems, which is a good advantage for us in the government space.

Then above that we continue to develop capabilities. Customers want choice. That’s why the partnership with Nutanix was important. We offer an alternative to vSphere and vCloud Foundation with Nutanix Prism and Acropolis. 

Knorr: VMware has become the default for the private cloud, though.

Neri: Obviously, VMware owns 60 percent of the on-prem virtualized environment, but more and more, containers are becoming the way to go in a cloud-native approach. For us, we own the full container stack, because we

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