HP Splitting Future Bets in 3D, New Computer Technology

By Doug Mohney October 09, 2014

HP's announcement to split the company into businesses focusing on PC/consumer products and enterprise services seems to have trigged an onslaught of criticism of CEO Meg Whitman and questions  as to why it has taken the company over three years to reach the point of spinoffs.  Each part of HP Inc. and HP Enterprise will have its own bet on future technology as HP Labs is broken up, but it's going to be tough to see either come to fruition without bigger management changes.

HP Inc., the ugly stepchild getting printers and computers, has steadily declining numbers for those categories.  Over the last two fiscal years, sales from desktop computers are down almost $2.5 billion; printers, down $2.5 billion; and laptops—presumably better than desktops—are down more than $5 billion dollars.

Analysts attribute the declines to HP flopping in mobile technology, specifically for not rolling out a successful tablet and not being able to figuring out the impact of smartphones and tablets on its printer business. I'm not quite sure if $2.5 billion in declined revenue can solely be traced to the green movement and people using smartphones as a replacement for a printed boarding pass.

Still, HP Inc. brought in $3.9 billion in operating profit thanks to ink more expensive than fine perfume and the continued need by properly paranoid types like myself to print plane tickets and PowerPoints out of fear of not having enough battery life on the phone, or WIndows going through an system update at just the wrong time.

The "new" PC player will need the cash. It has no play in the wearable tech market, crashed and burned in mobile tech and needs to launch its potential jewel for future earnings—3-D printing.  HP leadership has talked a good game about 3-D printing in the past, but the company hasn't been able to bring a product to market.  Advantages HP said it would be bringing to the market are rapid print speeds, more accuracy, and heavy duty-cycle devices suitable for service-style businesses.   Unspoken are HP's understanding of a "razors and blades" ecosystem of printers and consumables and a well-known brand.

But HP has been slow to pull the trigger.  The company was supposedly going to release one or more 3-D products this summer. Analysts are suggesting an independent HP Inc. may use some cash flow to selectively buy technology and talent to supplement its own portfolio.   

From a strategic perspective, HP Inc. could attractive significant attention, buzz, and shape the marketplace if it dove into 3-D printing by offering real products—rather than just continuing to talk about it.

Hewett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) will keep the big iron, like Apollo, Gen 9 and Moonshot servers, as it continues to play with the big boys for system integration.  It will continue to go head to head against IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and everyone else that wants a piece of Fortune 1000 business. 

Most importantly, HPE gets "The Machine," HP Labs vision for rethinking the architecture of computing.  Based upon leveraging memristor technology—another stuck-in-the-labs HP technology—The Machine would have huge, low-power storage 100 times faster than flash memory using just one percent as much energy as flash.  Memristor storage would be directly linked to CPUs via fiber optics, dramatically increasing speed over copper interconnects and cutting energy consumption.  Because power is dramatically lower with the combination of optical and memristor, you can densely pack computing together. The company estimates it could take its own HP.com website from 25 racks down to 3 by using The Machine technology.

Up to 75 percent of HP Labs is working on “The Machine”.  HP, and now HPE, is betting heavily that The Machine will change the face of data center computing, but that bet won't come to the market for another 5 years, according to estimates.   However, if the technology is as good as promised, I wouldn't be surprised to see Google and/or Facebook put resources (i.e., cash) into the effort a couple years down the road from today.

The big question in 3-D printing and The Machine is if the two spin-off companies can deliver these technologies in a timely fashion.  The promise of memristor has not yet made it to production, while HP continues to talk a good game about 3-D printing without demonstrating a real world product.   Both new entities are going to have to learn to execute more rapidly and efficiently if they expect to survive. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Editor

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