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Amazon isn't just the world's largest ecommerce company. Thanks to its Amazon Web Services (AWS) offering, Amazon has become the 800 pound gorilla of cloud computing.

It's a role it shows no intention of relinquishing.

In addition to constantly expanding the breadth of AWS, Amazon has promoted its competitive edge by continuing to reduce its prices. That, in turn, has forced other players in the cloud computing space, such as Microsoft, to follow suit, something that could be more painful to them than Amazon.

But Amazon may have a formidable new competitor soon: H.P. According to The New York Times' Quentin Hardy, the technology stalwart is set to unveil publicly its own cloud computing platform in the next two months:

Hewlett-Packard’s alternative to A.W.S. has been underway for over a year, and is likely to be the most ambitious project yet under Meg Whitman, who became chief executive of the Palo Alto, Calif., technology company last September. While seemingly focused on Amazon, the company is also looking at the project as a new way to compete with its traditional rivals.

To compete with Amazon and its long-time rivals, H.P. is taking a slightly different approach. Instead of trying to provide bare-bones infrastructure, it's building "business-oriented features" into its offering. According to H.P.'s SVP and GM of cloud services, Zorawar “Biri” Singh, "We’re not just building a cloud for infrastructure. Amazon has the lead there. We have to build a platform layer, with a lot of third-party services.” Among the first software applications available as part of the Hewlett-Packard cloud, he said, will be both structured and unstructured databases, and data analytics as a service."

In other words, H.P. will be going beyond infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) and platform-as-a-service (PAAS) and melding those with software-as-a-service (SAAS). To add additional appeal, the company plans to create an ecosystem of third-party solutions that are available through its platform, and to provide more hand-holding on the sales and support side. That perhaps makes it a more immediate competitor to other enterprise players like Oracle than Amazon.

But is this approach a recipe for success in eventually competing with Amazon? Time will tell. One of the biggest factors will, of course, be pricing. In theory, H.P. certainly has the financial resources to be competitive on cost (the company pulls in around $100bn in revenue annually). And it has a strategic justification for doing so, seeing its new cloud offering as a sales channel for H.P.'s other product offerings. "This will leverage our whole sales channel," Singh was quoted as saying.

But could H.P.'s hopes that its cloud will help it sell more hardware and software to enterprise customers be misguided? Amazon isn't perfect, but AWS customers don't have to worry that Amazon is going to call them up hawking other wares. In other words, Amazon simply sells cloud computing resources and has little else in the way of an agenda. With this in mind, H.P., which has additional intentions, may find that is greatest challenge is competing with that.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 March, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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