DÜSSELDORF -- SDN & OpenFlow World Congress -- HP's Saar Gillai is great at putting on an expression of childlike innocence.
HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) has been going through big changes recently, which have the potential to buffet the NFV business. The company said this month it will split in two parts -- one focused on business customers, and the other on consumers. Also, Bethany Mayer, HP senior VP and GM of the NFV business unit, quit recently. (See HP to Split Into Two Companies, Ixia Hands Reins to NFV Star Mayer, and Ixia's New CEO to Telcos: Read Up On Cloud.)
In a one-on-one interview here, I asked Gillai whether those changes signal reduced commitment to SDN and NFV.
That's where Gillai, who is Mayer's replacement and also SVP/COO for HP Cloud, batted his big blue eyes at me and asked why anybody would think HP is reducing its commitment to networking in light of those events.
(That's a figure of speech about his big blue eyes -- they're eye-sized and I'm pretty sure they're not blue.)
Gillai's innocent act was a halfway decent response. Given demand from its business customers, HP would be stupid to reduce commitment to networking, NFV and SDN. On the other hand, businesses make stupid decisions with some regularity. As evidence, let me present this Windows Vista laptop, Cisco Flip camera and can of New Coke.
And when a technology champion leaves a company at a time of fundamental organizational change, it's reasonable to ask whether that company has diminished its commitment to the technology.
To make a long story short -- or at least, keep the story from getting any longer than it already is -- Gillai said no, HP is not diminishing its commitment to NFV.
"With this activity, we'll end up doubling down on the enterprise side," Gillai said. "We're splitting into a B2B company and a B2C company. This will give the B2B company more flexibility." The HP enterprise business will be "more focused," he said. With the split, top HP executives, including Meg Whitman (current CEO of HP and incumbent CEO of HP Enterprise) will be able to fully focus on the enterprise, which includes HP's multi-billion-dollar carrier business. And in reality, the businesses had been operating separately previously.
As for Mayer, she left because she had a good opportunity to take over as CEO of Ixia, and not in reaction to HP downplaying NFV, Gillai said. (See Ixia Names NFV Pioneer Mayer CEO.)
Indeed, HP expects this quarter to produce deliverables promised in the OpenNFV strategy announced under Mayer. (See HP Attempts NFV Surprise Despite Spoilers.)
Gillai takes over for Mayer in addition to continuing as COO of HP's cloud business. He says he was picked for the job because HP sees OpenStack and NFV as closely linked, and he worked closely with Mayer developing HP's NFV strategy. "There is a level of continuity here," Gillai said. Mayer's team remains with the NFV business unit.
HP sees OpenStack as the the default platform for NFV, not just for HP's customers, but industry-wide.
Interestingly, HP's NFV business unit is outside of HP Networking. I asked Gillai why that is, and he did that childlike innocence thing again, asking me why I would think that the NFV business unit should be part of the networking business unit. Well, I said, it's networking technology.
"NFV isn't a networking technology. It's a cloud technology applied to networking," Gillai said.
That sounds like a meaningless distinction to me, but before I could bring up the objection, Vinay Saxena, HP distinguished technologist and chief architect, NFV, raised a good point: By locating NFV outside of other HP business units, the NFV unit gets the freedom to partner outside the company -- for example, a recent partnership with Brocade.
"We don't assume the solutions we provide will be all HP, and that's fine," Gillai said. Customers want solutions from multiple HP business units and from outside partners, but they don't want to deal with multiple HP business units and companies.
Still, HP's organizational structure splits SDN (inside HP Networking) from NFV, and those are two technologies that are closely tied together. "SDN is not a product, it's a technology," Gillai explained, although it includes products, such as HP's SDN controller, which is inside the Networking business unit.
HP sees its competitors in NFV as companies that build proprietary solutions -- in networking, the name rhymes with "Shmisco." Companies that build virtual network functions aren't competitors -- they're often HP's partners, Gillai said.
But HP doesn't see other vendors as its primary NFV competitors. The primary competition is current industry business practices. "The competition is not doing things. It's the speed and pace of change in the industry," Gillai said.
HP's competitive advantage here is that it has the resources to work with carriers over the long haul to close a sale, taking "the long journey" from proof-of-concept to business deployment, Gillai said.