The paparazzi rushed to the stage, cameras flashing, as the leading lady took her bow. But, unfortunately, they missed the real star of the show.
With all the attention given to Carly Fiorina at the launch of Hewlett Packard's (HP's) new high-end Superdome Unix server, the audience at the glitzy Wall Street Regent Hotel in New York could have been forgiven for thinking it was a tribute to the glamorous chief executive.
"She brings us a little bit of Hollywood," beamed Steve Muddiman, European general manager of HP's eservices division.
But the real star wasn't Ms Fiorina. Nor was it even the shiny new Superdome box. Relegated to a supporting role by the attention given to its co-stars, the real luminary of the occasion was HP's new so-called utility computing pricing model, which was launched alongside Superdome. And this new pay-per-use pricing model has the potential to affect every major HP customer, regardless of whether or not they buy the new machine.
"We have placed a bet on the future of computing - it is utility computing," said Fiorina, going on to describe the launch as a "watershed day for HP".
Superdome, although an important product, is unlikely to have a serious impact on the future of the company or its customers, however, because HP doesn't expect to sell that many. Sun Microsystems has only sold 3000 of its rival E10000 servers in the past four years and IBM's RS/6000 S80 only passed the 1000 unit shipment mark in March, even though it was launched in September last year.
On the other hand, utility computing could eventually change the way HP, and the rest of the industry, charges its customers. HP's goal is to supply IT to users in the same way as we buy electricity today - on a metered, pay-per-use basis. It's about providing what, among others, Charlie Bell, vice president of infrastructure at HP customer Amazon.com, calls "internet dial tone".
Although this new pricing model will initially apply only to Superdome, the aim is to extend it over time to cover all of HP's servers. The company has previously put its toe in the water with a capacity-on-demand pricing model, where users can install a server with more processors than they need and only pay for them when they are switched on.
HP claims that Superdome takes this a step further, enabling customers to turn processors on and then off again to cope with usage peaks. Accounting software embedded in HP/UX will automatically inform HP about such usage, so it can bill users on a monthly basis.
Eventually this capability will be extended to other system components such as memory and virtual partitions, a function that HP claims is an industry first.
"It is a bold move. There is no doubt end users want utility computing; they want vendors to take the risk. But it will take another 18 months before it comes together," says Mitul Mehta, managing director of analyst TekPlus.
Unfortunately, HP cannot confirm exactly how Superdome's utility pricing model will work. "The full pricing model is not yet available. The accounting software will ship in the first quarter of 2001, but we need to work with HP's finance group to determine the practicalities," says Laurent Balaine, HP's Western Europe marketing director. "Utility computing is the goal. We are part of the way there, and Superdome is the next step."
But this kind of offering could not have emerged in the pre-Fiorina era. After founding HP in a garage in 1939, Messrs Hewlett and Packard ensured that each business within the company was independent and self-supporting. By the time Fiorina was recruited from telecoms supplier Lucent in July 1999, HP comprised 22 separate units, which rarely talked to each other.
As a result, HP customers ended up dealing with different people from each of the different units. Since then, Fiorina has reshaped HP around a new business model - one brand, one company. But the transition has not been smooth.
The concept of utility computing puts HP's proposed $18bn purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PwC) consulting group into some type of context, however. HP wants to change the way users buy servers by making them part of a service offering. A utility model requires a greater understanding of customers' workload, and a deeper knowledge of their business. Acquiring PwC's consultants could provide instant credibility, but would not be without problems of its own.
"The PwC bid shows how far HP has come. It says it's in the business of competing with IBM Global Services. However, there could be a culture clash between PwC and HP," says Mehta.
But Fiorina's team is aware of the difficulties. "It's a different thinking process. Superdome achieves the challenge of bringing all of HP together. This is a first for HP, as anyone who has known us in the past will know," says Balaine.
If the belief that Fiorina brings a touch of Hollywood to HP is bourne out, then she's probably hoping that utility computing will be her Oscar-winning blockbuster. After months of rehearsals, her future - and that of HP - now rests on whether the new utility computing pricing model gets bums on seats and delivers big box office earnings.
Allen died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Stanford researchers made the discovery via data from Greenland
Created via a thin, flexible, and transparent hierarchical nanocomposite film
Rolls Royce will use AI powered by Intel's Xeon Gold processors and SSDs for memory