Vertica, Autonomy. Who Next as HP Builds an Information Business?

August 19, 2011
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The announcements by HP yesterday set the Web rippling with the opinion that HP is pulling out of the consumer-facing business by dropping WebOS and TouchPad and spinning off its PC business.  Probably of more interest to readers of BeyeNetwork, though, is HP’s decision to acquire Autonomy for a cool $10.2B.  Following on from HP’s February purchase of Vertica, it seems fair to say that HP is moving (or returning?) strongly into the enterpri

The announcements by HP yesterday set the Web rippling with the opinion that HP is pulling out of the consumer-facing business by dropping WebOS and TouchPad and spinning off its PC business.  Probably of more interest to readers of BeyeNetwork, though, is HP’s decision to acquire Autonomy for a cool $10.2B.  Following on from HP’s February purchase of Vertica, it seems fair to say that HP is moving (or returning?) strongly into the enterprise information management business.

As a long-time proponent of the view that the divisions between different “types” of data are breaking down rapidly, the move is not surprising.  Autonomy uses the tag-lines “meaning based computing” and “human-friendly data” and focuses on what I call soft (or, unstructured, as it’s usually misleadingly called) information.  As I discussed in my last couple of posts on IDC’s Digital Universe Study, this type of information represents an enormous and rapidly growing proportion of the information resource of the world, and one that requires a very different way of thinking about and managing it.  And much of the interest in big data stems directly from the insight one can gain from mining and analyzing exactly this type of information.  The acquisition of Autonomy gives HP a significant foothold in this soft information space, given Autonomy’s positioning as a leader in the content management and related spaces by Gartner and Forrester.

I have long characterized the traditional approach to computing as being partitioned between operational, informational and collaborative.  In the past, these areas have been developed separately, built on disparate platforms, supported by different parts of the IT organization and end up on users’ desks as three sets of dis-integrated applications.  Business intelligence, although receiving all its base data from the operational environment, operated as a stand-alone environment.  HP bought into that environment with its Vertica acquisition.  With the Vertica Connector for Hadoop, HP already has access to some of the big data / collaborative data area.  However, the Autonomy acquisition takes the use and analysis of soft, collaborative information to an entirely new level.  And we can speculate just how far HP will be able to go in aligning and perhaps integrating the functionality in these two areas.

While operational data is still very much the preserve of SAP and similar tools (not to mention home-grown applications from previous generations), the informational and collaborative world are growing ever more intertwined.  It’s in this converging arena that HP is clearly now throwing its hat, and competing against the big players such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, who already have offerings spanning both areas, although with varying levels of integration.  Teradata has also seriously entered this field with its recent acquisition of Aster Data.  This arena is already populated with strong players.

So, while HP has acquired a strong and well-respected tool with inventive developers in Vertica and now a major player in the content market, I believe there remains a serious question about how easy it will be for them to gain traction in the information management market.  I’ll be looking out for some seriously innovative developments from HP to convince me that they can gain the respect of the BI and content communities and compete seriously with the incumbents.