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HP's evolution

HP's evolution

For the high-tech vendor community, 2007 was a great year. At Google, Microsoft, EMC, IBM, Oracle, SAS, Sun Microsystems, Apple, Fujitsu, SAP and others, profits grew, new products emerged out of a renewed focus on innovation, and customer engagement increased. But one company led all the rest and had a year for the record books: Hewlett-Packard.

In 2006, the market was starting to see how HP Chairman, CEO and President Mark Hurd's strategy of financial accountability and laser-like customer focus was taking shape. Last year, it not only took shape but launched like a rocket ship!

With over US$104 billion in revenue, HP is now the largest technology company in the world. But what is probably the most fascinating part of HP's transformation is the fact that it's rapidly becoming a serious software player. Over the past few years, HP has acquired Opsware, Peregrine, Mercury, Knightsbridge and Neoware, and Hurd has suggested that the checkbook is still wide open. (It's been reported that HP has $1 billion allocated for acquisitions this year.) This buying spree now has HP doing over $2 billion a year in software revenue and has allowed it to immerse itself in the network and systems management categories.

Just imagine what HP could do if it added a virtualization solution by purchasing Citrix (just as Citrix did by acquiring XenSource last summer), or made a "last mile" business intelligence play by buying MicroStrategy, or linked up with a security company like, say, Symantec. Then we'd really have something to talk about. This is all conjecture, but what's not is that HP is trying very hard (and so far succeeding) to become more than a printer and hardware company. This isn't to say that it doesn't have ongoing issues with CIOs making the integration of its recently acquired companies a smooth proposition, becoming more strategic up and down the entire software stack and dealing with competitors suddenly paying closer attention to it.

Nonetheless, HP is now the No. 5 software company in the world, and it has no plans to go away anytime soon. It will be fascinating to see this year how the company responds to the CIO's demands and if it has the ability, or desire, to scale beyond the infrastructure realm.

I will say this: These days, betting against Mark Hurd has become a scary, if not a flat-out losing proposition.

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