In an environment in which data growth is exploding, HP's chief strategy officer says that enterprise storage has become the most critical piece of infrastructure for large organisations.
Shane Robison, EVP and chief strategy and technology officer at HP told the Gartner Symposium in Sydney today that data storage has become the "key technology in infrastructure", with networking coming in a close second.
He said the industry has the 'T' in IT bedded down - with technology innovation marching forward, but has a big trouble with 'I' - the managing of information.
Robison, who has coached the last six consecutive HP chief executives, said the vendor could justify its multi-billion dollar price-tag for acquiring storage vendor 3PAR on this basis.
"We have a strong [storage] roadmap, but there was a major hole we needed to fill [with 3PAR]," he said. "When we make decisions around M&A [mergers and acquisitions] - we think about time to market. And when you are goiing to acquire an industry leader, its expensive."
The HP executive said the company invests its merger and acquisition spend - and to a degree its research and development - in "areas where where customers have pain points or opportunities to differentiate.
"Information is without question in my mind the most important natural resource of the next century", and the biggest challenge to manage, he said.
Storage is also becoming a key differentiator for vendors as the server market - where HP is the market leader - becomes commoditised by price pressure and the rise of infrastructure-as-a-service.
Robison said the server infrastructure market has become "so price sensitive" due to the rise of "massive scale infrastructures" that "half a dozen companies are exploring using ARM processors in server infrastructure.
"If you think about what's going on in ARM in mobile space - it's clearly a successful model. I don't see it not working in infrastructure."
Robison said HP was unlikely to attempt mergers or takeovers with large software vendors like SAP in the wake of the Oracle-Sun merger.
"The more interesting part of the market is not the handful of big companies but the things Microsoft is doing with Azure and BPOS or Amazon with EC2," he said.
"It's a wild time at the moment," he said. "There is a much more complex chess game going on. if you focus on your old competitors and neglect the new ones, you are in for surprises."
Robison expected the web services market will continue to explode but eventually consolidate - hinting at future opportunities for large infrastructure providers like HP.
"This will be a little buit like the early days of the PC," he said. "A handful of providers exploded into hundreds - and then consolidated back to a few large players. Web services space will go through that transition."
HP's riskiest venture today, he said, was its acquisition of Palm - which gives HP a hand in the "most disruptive" technology category - mobility.
"Palm is a business model change for HP, a new segment," he said. "But on the other hand its going very well and is everything we hoped it would be as a rich platform."
Robison said HP planned to extend Palm's "always connected" touch and gesture-based interface from the handheld to tablets, notebooks, desktops and televisions.
He said that HP's Palm strategy is more akin to Apple's iOS than to Google's Android.
"We thought about Android - but its a different buisness model," he said. "The business model we've adopted with Palm is a hardware and software fully-integrated model - because that will be the better user experience.
"There is a lot of interest in Android - but a lot of people are customising it - that is a challenge for app developers as there is no consistency across the platform," he said.