HPE–Thinking Out of the Box

Joe Ayers, Public Sector Lead, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Joe Ayers, public sector lead for Hewlett Packard Enterprise–HPE–is a competitor and a coach. If you’re confused by the various flavors of HP, HPE is the $28 billion server, storage, and networking business. But to understand HPE, like understanding Ayers, you need to think outside the box.

Ayers played hockey growing up in Massachusetts and his freshman year at West Point, before serving eight years in the Army as an Apache helicopter pilot. The long-term coach for the Reston Raiders youth hockey team smiles when he recounts sitting up until 2:00 a.m. with his daughter to watch the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team win gold in Korea. As we talked about tech, he revealed a keen interest in history–and his accidental entry into the IT world. 15 minutes with Joe Ayers–straight shooting.

What Are HPE’s Strategic Priorities in Public Sector?

“It’s all about enabling a hybrid cloud tomorrow–and it’s all about flexibility,” said Ayers. “We allow agencies to buy everything as a service, and that includes purchasing new infrastructure to modernize their on-prem data centers. We’re empowering agencies to deploy IoT to drive power to the edge of their networks. And, we’re providing the services to make these and other next-generation capabilities work seamlessly for agencies.”

Offering more than platitudes, the Scottish American got down into the engine room to provide tangible examples of HPE’s sweet spots.

“We do this through our super six, which are our company priorities to enable customers to meet their aggressive mission and operational goals,” he continued. “HPE Pointnext offers Everything as a Service, Aruba delivers wireless and intelligence to the edge of the network, Synergy Composable Infrastructure, Gen 10 security allowing us to provide the most secure industry standard servers, high-performance computing, software defined infrastructure, as well as Nimble and 3Par predictive analytics.”

What Do You View as HPE’s Key Differentiators?

“Our products are the building blocks for tomorrow’s networks and applications,” said Ayers. “Aruba is defining the art of the possible in secure wireless. SGI is unlocking new possibilities in big data and machine learning. Nimble enables new dimensions in predictive analytics. And we take security more seriously than others in our market–driving assurance right into the supply chain. Personnel in many of our manufacturing facilities are cleared with lifestyle polys. If you wrap all that together with our expert technical services team that really understands government agencies’ missions, we have the right stuff to put it all together.”

“We’re also very customer-centric and recognize that, while public cloud makes sense at small scale, as you get past a certain size, you’re better off building and hosting it yourself.”

What are the Biggest Opportunities and Challenges in Federal IT?

“I think that 5G wireless will change everything,” said Ayers. “With that speed, connectivity, and low latency, all of sudden IoT finds its real mojo and AI gets wings. This is a must-win for the Federal government and the U.S. economy–if the Chinese get here first, it will give them a huge leg up in solving really important and complex problems.”

“Clearly cyber security is a double-edged sword–it’s both a massive challenge and a huge opportunity, and AI will unlock a whole pile of new solutions in this space. Again, advances in the network will pay huge dividends.”

Turning to the challenges, Ayers railed at the notion that everything should be in the cloud. “The cloud is not inherently more secure and it’s not inherently cheaper,” he observed. “When you’re running a small operation, it often makes sense to use public cloud services, but as you scale your operation, it’s almost always more cost effective to build your infrastructure on prem–or at least the majority of that processing infrastructure. You may want to access specialist services, like Workday or Salesforce, or leverage development in a PaaS environment, but for the real heavy lift, you’re better off in house. Folks love the cloud cool–until they get the first bill.”

“And, if you need to flip the finances to OpEx, we offer as a service for on-prem infrastructure. You can have your cake and eat it too. That’s precisely what New York State is doing–building its own data center and offering infrastructure to the components as a service.”

What Emerging Trends Are You Seeing in Federal and State & Local IT?

“Clearly there’s a massive push to modernization–and in the Federal space, the MGT Act enables a host of new conversations and solutions,” said Ayers. “It’s all about changing the IT game from CapEx to OpEx and shifting to a consumption-based approach for IT solutions and services. MGT allows Federal agencies to throw off the weight of legacy IT and embrace new agile, customer-centric infrastructure and application models. The $100 million central revolving capital fund will allow agencies to build new platforms and establish modern shared services. However, the agency working capital funds–and the opportunity to change one-year money into three-year money–redraw the art of the possible and incent agencies to make better business decisions.”

“At the state and local level, where most citizens actually interact with their government, it’s all about enabling new customer experiences–online, mobile, automated,” he observed. “People want the same quality of customer service they receive in their lives as consumers. And, that’s ushering wholesale tech upgrades.”

Focusing on technology trends, Ayers pointed to the big four–everything as a service, machine learning/AI, cyber security, and mobility with the push to 5G. “These disruptive technologies are remaking the public sector.”

What Considerations Should Federal IT Leaders Prioritize When Planning a Path Forward in Modernization? 

“I’d start with the ‘right-mix’ conversation first–and that comes down to a price/performance mapping, immediately and over time,” said Ayers, returning to that Scottish pragmatism. “Many of our customers are now realizing that it’s significantly cheaper to build their own onsite data center and sell this service to their users as a service.”

How Is HPE Positioned to Help the Federal Government With Its IT Modernization Drive?

“As you can appreciate, HPE has undergone a ton of transition–both inside our organization and for customers across the government and Fortune 100,” said Ayers. “Our servers, storage, networking, and services are the stuff of IT. And, we offer flexible capacity as well as Cloud Technology Partners to help agencies get to their ‘right mix’.”

Stepping back from government IT, Ayers demonstrated a keen interest in military history–from the war of independence to Vietnam and the Middle East. Funnily, to close a conversation about the future, we reflected a little on the past.

Asked how he got into the IT business, Ayers noted that he struck up a conversation with a former Dell executive while washing his car in Old Town Alexandria. That conversation intrigued Joe enough to go for an interview with Dell. He started out as an engineering manager–and, as they say, the rest is history…

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Steve O'Keeffe
Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.