In the early days of cloud technology, it was almost a given that any business moving workloads to the cloud would be using AWS. Such was the dominance that Amazon rapidly established.

Traditional server vendors, including HPE, were initially left floundering in Amazon’s wake, but it didn’t take them long to respond to this new desire for cloud-like operations. HPE’s first offering came in the form of private cloud initiatives. This enabled companies loyal to HPE to take advantage of cloud-like services without the need to move to a third-party supplier.

Here, we present an overview of HPE GreenLake. The problem that HPE was trying to solve. The early days of the initiative. How it compares to public cloud. And we’ll attempt to provide answers to the many questions that businesses have about the service.

Limitations of private cloud

HPE’s first private cloud offerings had its limitations. One of the key advantages of AWS was its ability to provision new servers quickly; this wasn’t possible with this type of private cloud.

It also lacked the crucial element of pay-as-you go: that ability to make the most of per-usage pricing, something that continues to delight CFOs.

In addition, what HPE meant by private cloud was really extensive use of virtualisation on existing privately managed hardware. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, but it couldn’t match the degree of flexibility being offered by AWS and its competitors.

The HPE GreenLake initiative

HPE’s response to this was to launch the GreenLake initiative, a way to bring the cloud to on-premises datacentres. The GreenLake system (hardware and software) is delivered and managed by HPE, but the cost for this infrastructure is consumption based – essentially customers only pay for the compute and storage that they actually use.

That simplicity of cost, coupled with on-premises or private datacentre infrastructure, makes for a compelling proposition, especially for any organisations working within highly regulated industries. But the intrinsic flexibility baked into GreenLake makes it an even more attractive option.

Public cloud versus HPE GreenLake

The beauty of a public cloud solution such as AWS is its flexibility. If you need more headroom, simply spin up another instance. Then spin it back down when that need passes.

With on-premises or private cloud infrastructure, organisations would often overprovision their hardware needs to ensure that they had that headroom when required. This meant paying for hardware that was rarely (if ever) utilised to its full potential.

GreenLake offers similar levels of elasticity to public cloud, giving customers the flexibility to increase or decrease usage models dependent on need, while only paying for what is actually used. There’s even the option to increase or reduce the number of active CPU cores, with no need for engineers or hardware upgrades – the extra cores are there from the outset, but you only pay for them when you use them.

GreenLake isn’t a “one size fits all” solution either. Just as AWS offers its customers a range of different services, so HPE provides options tailored to its users. These are based on different hardware products, according to needs, while HPE also provides the underlying software, ensuring smooth management.

How HPE GreenLake has changed

Since the launch of GreenLake, HPE has constantly refined the services that’s offered. Last year, at the HPE Discover conference, the company introduced several different products to meet the need for more sophisticated cloud support.

In particular, it launched GreenLake for Private Cloud Enterprise. This provided customers with the ability to deploy workloads on bare metal, virtual machines or containers, taking account of the need for cloud-native services and obviating the requirement to use virtualisation.

HPE also claims that customers will have a much more manageable and predictable usage bill every month, with no sudden shocks – as can happen with traditional cloud access. All the management is handled by HPE, reducing the cost of personnel.

A mature product: what HPE GreenLake is now

GreenLake customers are therefore being offered very similar services to those offered by the big cloud providers. The only limitation (although some would argue it is in advantage) is that the choice of equipment and services are dependent on a single vendor rather than a range of options.

That said, GreenLake does support a range of software and services, including AWS and Microsoft Azure. 

The HPE GreenLake system does have its limitations, but it has proved a popular way for enterprises to manage the demands placed on a modern business, without radically overhauling their setups.

It is easy to see why there are queries about HPE GreenLake. It’s a cloud-based offering, but not quite cloud as in the way that the cloud hyperscalers are cloud. HPE obviously believes that it’s secured an individual offering in a very competitive field. How will other companies respond?

To conclude, we’ll finish with a bunch of questions that people ask about HPE GreenLake. Starting with a simple one:

Is HPE GreenLake a server?

No. HPE GreenLake is manifestly a cloud-based service.

Is HPE GreenLake a private cloud?

HPE GreenLake doesn’t operate in the same way that other cloud services do. Nor is it strictly a private cloud service – although there are some strong similarities there.  It can’t even be described as a hybrid cloud – although there are even stronger similarities.

The best way of thinking about GreenLake is that it’s a range of services, all different offerings, all banded together under the name of GreenLake. There are parallels here with AWS, which offers S3, EC2. Lambda, DynamoDB and dozens of others.  A user can look at AWS and it doesn’t matter whether they’re looking for a storage solution, compute in the cloud, a way to handle or any number of applications.  HPE is taking a similar approach with Greenlake.

It’s true that HPE is not offering the complete range of different products that AWS supplies, but AWS is a company that was born in the cloud and has been refining its offering from cloud’s Year Zero.

Who competes with HPE GreenLake?

The two obvious competitors are AWS and Microsoft Azure.

What definitely counts in GreenLake’s favour is that stands on its own. It can be compared with the public cloud services like AWS or Microsoft Azure, but it will be a more comprehensive undertaking.

With AWS, users can configure storage or compute time but it’s a complete edge to cloud offering. Meanwhile, Microsoft Azure does offer an easier integration with Microsoft offerings, but doesn’t have the full range of services that GreenLake provides.

What sets HPE GreenLake apart from other cloud providers?

One of the big advantages is that users can deploy pre-configured products from HPE or work with their existing setup.

The main advantage of GreenLake is this level of flexibility.  For example, there’s a complete range of storage products that can be deployed.  For those who require it, there are all-flash arrays available; if that’s not necessary than their other options. 

But it’s not just about storage. Every aspect of IT infrastructure can be catered for: does an organisation require access to a supercomputer? That can be arranged. Is there a company that wants to explore the latest advances in AI? GreenLake can do that too.

Which kinds of companies should consider HPE GreenLake?

The unique features listed above means that a variety of companies should consider HPE GreenLake.

There will be those who want to minimise the management process. HPE’s support will mean that these companies can be helped along the way.

There are companies who want to experiment with newer technologies.

There will be those enterprises that are devoted HPE users and want a cloud-based approach, working with existing kit.

Finally, there will be those organisations that are getting ready for rapid expansion as GreenLake will make it easy to deploy what’s needed.

How much does HPE GreenLake cost?

The cost very much depends on what services you choose, but it’s in line with similar offerings from rivals. What makes choosing GreenLake a lot easier is its pay-per-use model; everything is metered and HPE claims that there are no unexpected charges.

This article was updated on 14 December with answers to six new questions and the addition of a table of contents.

Maxwell Cooter
Maxwell Cooter

Although Max trained to be a programmer, he quickly found his vocation in journalism. He was the founder editor of Cloud Pro, the UK's first dedicated cloud publication and has written for dozens of titles, including The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. At TechFinitive he writes about cloud computing and data.