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Senior Editor

HP’s adaptive evangelist

Dec 22, 20036 mins

Nora Denzel, head of HP’s Adaptive Enterprise and Software Group, oversees a $2.5 billion enterprise software strategy.

Nora Denzel, head of HP’s Adaptive Enterprise and Software Group, oversees a $2.5 billion, enterprise software strategy.

Ask enterprise IT managers about HP software and the conversation could begin and end with OpenView, HP’s network management platform. Nora Denzel plans to change that.

In October, the 41-year-old executive became responsible for HP’s $2.5 billion Adaptive Enterprise strategy, which promises to deliver intelligent hardware, smart software and services that will dynamically allocate data center resources on demand. In her quest to make HP’s software the management platform of choice for utility computing, Denzel faces competition from IBM, Microsoft and Sun – and HP’s own reputation.

“Denzel has to overcome the perception of HP as a hardware vendor that treats software as an afterthought,” says Rich Ptak, partner with Ptak, Noel & Associates.

Denzel says IT managers worldwide recognize HP software brands, but multiple acquisitions in the past few years (including the merger with Compaq) prove that HP is opting to buy technology rather than build it.

“Adaptive Enterprise is a new foray for HP. We want to help our customers through the next decade understand how they can use their technology to better serve the needs of their business,” she says. While OpenView is a popular product, HP isn’t the go-to vendor for multiple software needs. Denzel says with HP’s new product strategy, she aims to change that perception.

By no means is software new for HP. The OpenView portfolio is among its major offerings, and includes network, server, service-level and application management software. The company also sells other management products in the form of OpenCall, ProLiant Essentials (from the Compaq merger), and now, under Denzel’s domain, the Utility Data Center suite. Of course, HP sells myriad other software products such as development tools, messaging platforms, operating systems, security products and the like. All told, it brings in about $1 billion in revenue from its software offerings.

Yet industry watchers say Denzel will face an uphill battle getting a slow-moving vendor to quickly deliver new Adaptive Enterprise products that are based on its technology acquisitions. She’ll have an especially steep road trying to bring in the kind of money that HP’s server and other hardware offerings generate, some say.

The challenge excites Denzel.

“Being a person that gets bored easily, I think software is the way to go,” she says. Today, software is maturing from handling hardware quirks to understanding complicated business processes. In essence, “it’s fundamentally changing the way things work,” she says.

An early passion

Denzel’s passion for all things computer-related began on a farm in upstate New York as one of six children. Denzel’s father, a math and science teacher, nurtured her love of numbers and constant questions about how things work. And her mother, who has a degree in medical technology, instilled a tremendous work ethic.

“I learned you have to make your own way and that nothing is handed to you. To this day, I think with hard work, I can make things happen,” Denzel says.

Tinkering with her father’s home computer, Denzel picked up software programming. In high school she was shocked, yet excited, when guidance counselors told her she could make a living doing something she loved. She studied computer science mostly because she was “fascinated with the rates at which data can move around,” and in 1984, Denzel landed a job as storage software engineer at IBM.

While at IBM, Denzel went to graduate school at night and earned a master’s degree in business administration. After moving up the ladder to worldwide director of IBM’s multi-million-dollar line of storage software products, she left in 1997 to work at Legato Systems. There, she served as a senior vice president of product operations and watched revenue grow from $50 million to $250 million in four years. She joined HP in 2000 as head of network storage and quickly took charge of the entire software group.

Self-described as a tough-but-fair manager, Denzel now oversees about 3,000 HP employees and reports to HP chief Carly Fiorina. She says her experience at both a huge and a somewhat smaller company helps her prioritize tasks day-to-busy-day at HP. During a given workday – always long – she attends to tasks such as deciding product direction, seeking out new technology purchases or working with partners to develop services.

Qualifications: Bachelor’s in computer science from the State University of New York; MBA from Santa Clara University.
Career goal: To make good on HP’s promises of delivering the uber operating system for intelligent data centers.
Previous employment: Head of product operations at Legato Systems; director of storage software at IBM.

“At IBM, I gained the ability to figure out how to move the ball forward in a very large and complicated system, and at Legato, I learned a lot more about running a business,” Denzel says.

Over the years, Denzel was the only woman at the table in many board meetings, but she never felt any sort of discrimination.

She’s found the hardware, storage and device sectors of the network industry to be driven by men, while more recently for software, the playing field sees more gender diversity. All that aside, her work ethic prevails. “I just work so much that any question of gender dissipates,” she says.

The one thing she is still learning on the job at HP is how to keep the customer appetite for new technology whetted.

“The new challenge is to make sure that you’re constantly articulating the business benefits of the new technology rather than the technology itself,” she says. The economy hit hard times in the past few years, and earning consumer trust and interest represents a new challenge for all vendors, she says. “The way people buy, use and measure their IT resources has dramatically and indefinitely shifted in the industry.”

In those rare times when she’s not working, Denzel enjoys time with her husband. Favorite activities include scuba diving and hiking around the Northern California mountains.

“I like the idea of being inaccessible under water and hiking where the cell reception isn’t so good,” Denzel says.