The HP Way: An Interview with Carly Fiorina

Linux and Open Source have become a key part of Hewlett-Packard's market strategy. HP's chairman, Carly Fiorina, tells us why.


Carly Fiorina joined Hewlett-Packard as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in July 1999. Prior to joining HP, she spent nearly 20 years at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, where she held a number of senior leadership positions in sales and marketing. As President of Lucent’s Global Service Provider Business, she spearheaded the planning and execution of its initial public offering and subsequent spin-off from AT&T.

On her watch, Hewlett-Packard announced that Linux would join Microsoft Windows and HP-UX (HP’s version of Unix) as a strategic operating system. HP also hired Bruce Perens, the onetime Debian project leader and founder of the Linux Standard Base, as an open source evangelist within HP’s Linux Business Development Organization under Martin Fink. (For more on Bruce Perens, see our interview with him in the September 2001 issue, located online at http://www.linux-mag.com/2001-09/perens_01.html.)

More recently, she has been making Page One business news with the proposed merger of HP and Compaq. Nevertheless, she took some time from her busy schedule to catch us up on HP’s Linux and open source strategies.

LINUX MAGAZINE: How has embracing Linux and open source software affected the corporate culture at HP?

CARLY FIORINA: Open Source has introduced new licensing models and a new development paradigm, which many HP teams have already embraced and are using to their advantage. We’re also working to drive Linux adoption in enterprise and ISP software development environments by creating tools and technologies that will facilitate development on Linux for easy deployment across Linux, HP-UX, and Windows NT systems.

LM: So it sounds like HP is making a significant investment in Linux. Is there any way of quantifying that investment?

CF: Rather than absolute dollars, what’s important here is that HP’s Linux investment is delivering real value today — a fact that’s increasingly being recognized by our customers. For instance, we are able to leverage Linux across a wider range of businesses than IBM can, including in our software business with HP OpenView, MC/ServiceGuard, and OpenCall and in our consumer products through printer drivers. We are also working on solutions to drivers for many other consumer products.

Beyond all of that, we’ve also developed an embedded Linux implementation that can be leveraged by many of our peripheral devices. We recently introduced a digital entertainment center with Linux at its core. Another important part of HP’s Linux investment is our Advanced Research Labs, where David Mosberger is leading the development of the Linux IA-64 kernel.

LM: You just mentioned the Linux printer drivers that HP recently open sourced. Is there anything you can tell us about the criteria that were used in making the decision to open source those drivers, and do you anticipate the same criteria would be used to decide whether or not to open source other existing products?

CF: We have a process in place called the Open Source Review Board, which we use to assess our open source initiatives. What we’ve learned is that every project is unique, and the team spends a good amount of time consulting with internal groups to help them make their individual business decisions. It’s worth noting that when we’ve mentioned this process to customers, many of them have expressed interest in having HP offer this type of consulting as a service, so we’re looking at that possibility.

LM: It sounds like you’re saying that Linux and Open Source could lead to new consulting opportunities for HP. On the flip side of that, do you believe that Linux or open source software presents a threat to any of HP’s existing businesses?

CF: We believe in providing our customers with choice, as we realize that customers operate in heterogeneous environments. Linux is one of three strategic operating systems for HP, the others being Windows and Unix. We don’t view Linux as a threat but rather as a key part of HP’s commitment to open standards.

Linux is a rapidly growing operating system in our industry, and it’s a preferred choice for customers in a number of application environments, especially Web and infrastructure services, e-commerce application development, and digital content creation. We also expect Linux to be appealing in the emerging server appliances market. In fact, HP recently announced our Blade server offering, with Linux as the initial operating system.

With regard to Open Source, we view this as an opportunity for HP to refocus its R&D higher in the value stack. No company will ever have enough R&D dollars. If the community and HP work together to develop solutions, that simply means HP can spend more resources on developing more value for our customers. So, we really see no real threat in open source software.

The Competition

LM: What companies do you believe will be most affected by Linux, either positively or negatively, and why?

CF: Linux has had a very positive effect here at HP. We’re moving to deliver the most comprehensive Linux and open source strategies in the industry, embracing systems, software, services, and peripherals.

Within the industry, the move to Linux clearly puts Sun at a disadvantage, given their desire to stay with SPARC and Solaris. Customers are looking for choices that don’t involve proprietary environments, and Sun has no real answer. IBM also finds itself trapped by a proprietary heritage. Linux from IBM comes with a price — namely, the high costs, proprietary nature, and limited application capability of a mainframe environment.

LM: Speaking of proprietary software, there is a lot of concern within the industry that Microsoft’s .NET initiatives essentially represent Microsoft’s attempt to own, and eventually tax, some standard part of the Internet, in the same way they were able to own a few standard parts of the PC architecture. In HP’s estimation, what are the risks posed by .NET, and is there anything a vendor like HP can do to avoid enfranchising Microsoft with a new monopoly?

CF: We have a strong partner relationship with Microsoft, and we view .NET as a Web Services infrastructure that uses XML as part of its core foundation. HP has been a leader in developing XML services to support interoperability, and as such, we expect to be able to interoperate with .NET. The open source community has also initiated an Open Source .NET implementation called Mono, which we’re closely watching.

LM: What about the desktop? Do you think Linux has any chance there? What would it take to break Microsoft’s monopoly there?

CF: HP’s strategic desktop is Windows, and we don’t see that changing. However, there are specific application areas, such as digital content creation, where the Linux desktop can and will play a key role.

LM: Okay, so what do you think about Dell’s decision to remove Linux as an option on their desktop and laptop PCs? How is HP reacting?

CF: Dell’s reputation is not that strong in the Linux and open source communities, since they are not in a position to contribute back to the communities at the level HP can, for example. Clearly, for general office productivity, Linux has not yet achieved the critical mass to make it a viable business, and there needs to be a business return to justify the investments of developing, certifying, and testing any operating environment. Linux is finding increased adoption in engineering and technical environments, and Hewlett-Packard works with business and volunteer partners to certify our desktops for Linux.

Debian and the Linux Standard Base

LM: Most of the traditional IT vendors that have entered the Linux market are using Red Hat as the default standard system that they are developing for and selling. HP has chosen to standardize on Debian. Can you please explain the thought process that went into making this decision?

CF: The perception that HP has standardized on Debian is wrong. Debian provides an open platform for development that is not controlled by any one company. HP’s commitment is to the LSB (the Linux Standard Base). We have great relationships with most of the major Linux distribution vendors and we encourage all of them to continue to support the LSB.

LM: Okay, but to focus on Debian for just a second — how much and in what ways do you see HP contributing to the Debian “process?”

CF: HP already is committing significant resources to the Debian process. The Itanium processor family and PA-RISC Debian releases were all driven by HP people, and we owe a great deal to the Debian community for helping us make that happen.

We know from our years of working with enterprise customers that stability is important. Debian provides one of the most stable environments. Enterprise customers don’t typically update or patch their systems on a whim.

The Longer Term

LM: What is HP’s strategic OS for the Itanium processor? How does HP prevent Linux from cannibalizing its HP-UX business?

CF: Our key objective is to help customers solve important business problems. The Itanium processor family, which HP co-invented, helps do that by delivering the right performance and allowing IT shops to run their choice of commercial or open source operating systems. We believe the Itanium processor family will be the essential platform for the next generation of 64-bit computing, whether you use Unix, Windows, or Linux.

LM: Aside from the areas you’ve mentioned already, are there other areas where HP is making investments in Linux and Open Source?

CF: We’re working in conjunction with education and research entities around the world, which provides a great opportunity for HP to seed new markets and new innovations. For example, in conjunction with Red Hat, we recently announced a donation to a number of universities, providing them with a combination of Itanium systems and Red Hat Linux.

Through our World e-inclusion program, Linux is being looked at by many developing countries, including China and India, as a way to build up their information infrastructures.

LM: Are there other new markets that HP will be able to target by leveraging Linux?

CF: We see broad potential for Linux in areas such as Internet infrastructure, compute farms, application development, design and visualization, and embedded applications. In fact, HP is already making significant inroads in the area of digital animation.

In addition, we’re investing both internally and through organizations such as the Open Source Development Lab to make Linux ready for things like the data center and telecommunications environments.

LM: What does Linux need to change to make it an easier sell for HP?

CF: Much of the enterprise infrastructure and tools that customers are accustomed to having in the Unix world are still lacking in Linux. We’re trying to address this. HP has focused our investments in key areas such as management, security, and high-availability capabilities. As these capabilities mature, we believe that customers will be more willing to adopt and deploy Linux solutions.

LM: Okay, that brings us to our last question. What about the HP/Compaq merger? Will HP/Compaq’s commitment to Linux change if the merger goes through?

CF: In discussions about the merger I have told customers that our strategic commitment at the operating system level is to Unix, Windows, and Linux. This is in keeping with our intent to lead the industry through the accelerating shift toward market-unifying architectures and approaches. Standards such as Itanium, Linux, open source, and open connectivity will shift the underlying economics, which will lead to more competition, greater choice and flexibility for businesses, and better ease-of-use for the average consumer.

We intend to reshape the economic structure of the industry through our commitment to Linux and open standards, and we believe our competitors will be forced to respond.

Interview conducted by the editors of Linux Magazine, who welcome your feedback at editors@linux-mag.com.

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