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By Steven Burke on November 24, 2015 on crm.com

Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman on Tuesday said the new independent enterprise company is set to designate Microsoft Azure as a “preferred” public cloud partner.

Whitman told Wall Street analysts on the earnings call Tuesday that HPE will unveil the partnership with Microsoft at the HPE Discover Conference in London next week.

“Microsoft shares our view of a hybrid IT approach for enterprises, and we both see opportunity to simplify hybrid infrastructure for our customers,” said Whitman. “Going forward, Microsoft Azure will become a preferred public cloud partner. HPE will serve as a preferred provider of Microsoft’s infrastructure and services for its hybrid cloud offerings.”

The strategic public cloud partnership with Microsoft comes just one month after Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which was officially launched as a separate business Nov. 1, said it will shut down its HP Helion Public Cloud offering effective Jan. 21, 2016.

Whitman said HP is “doubling down” on its managed and virtual private cloud offerings in the wake of the public cloud exit. “This is the right move,” she asserted. “It plays to our strengths in private and managed cloud. We will continue to extend our cloud infrastructure leadership and integrate the public cloud element for our customers through a strategic, partner-based model.”

It was unclear what kind of impact the preferred provider status might have on HPE’s relationship with Amazon Web Services.

[highlight type=”one”]Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, No. 232 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500, applauded the HPE-Microsoft partnership.[/highlight]

[highlight type=”one”]”This gives Hewlett Packard Enterprise solution providers more tools in the toolbox to provide cloud choices for customers, just like Dell has been providing for some time,” said Venero. “It’s a successful model to give your customers choice, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise to their credit is following that concept and model for all the right reasons — namely, it works. You have to be flexible in support of your customer’s end goals. One tool does not necessarily do the job.”[/highlight]

[highlight type=”one”]Venero said he is confident that Hewlett Packard Enterprise will also provide robust support for AWS’ popular public cloud. “All the major players need to be able to support AWS in some way, shape or form,” he said. “You can’t ignore the market leader and assume that your customers are not going to work with them. You need to be flexible.”[/highlight]

In a blog post detailing Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s hybrid cloud strategy, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Cloud Business Unit General Manager Bill Hilf has said that HP has added greater support for both Azure and Office 365 as well as Amazon Web Services with HP Helion Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus, an open-source startup with software for building private clouds with Amazon Web Services APIs, was acquired by Hewlett Packard Enterprise last September.

Whitman, for her part, has called the hybrid cloud strategy that HPE is pursuing a “significant” growth opportunity for the company. In fact, she has called the hybrid cloud market a much larger and richer opportunity than the public cloud market.

Bain & Co. market-research data puts the compound annual growth rate for private cloud at 24 percent over the next three years vs. 17 percent for public cloud.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has a $3 billion cloud business that is expected to grow at 20 percent annually for the next several years.

The hybrid cloud strategy comes with HPE reporting total sales for the quarter ended Oct. 31 of $14.1 billion, down 4 percent compared with the same quarter one year ago. Without the negative impact of currency, however, HPE sales would have been up 3 percent. That marks the second consecutive quarter of year-over-year constant-currency sales growth for the new company.

Whitman said cloud sales were a significant factor in the quarter. “Cloud is another important growth driver for us, and we saw strong momentum in the quarter,” she said. “We are the leading cloud infrastructure provider and we see a significant opportunity as enterprises move to a hybrid cloud environment.”