HP exec on navigating the open-source waters

Christine Martino was appointed vice president of Open Source and Linux Organization (OSLO) at Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) in November, succeeding Martin Fink, who took over HP's non-stop server group and remains Martino's boss. An 18-year veteran of the company, Martino often runs the widely-dispersed group out of her home office in Folsom, Calif. when she's not traveling. She talked this week with Computerworld's Eric Lai about inking deals for HP to sell and support popular open-source applications such as OpenLDAP, JBoss and MySQL in the last 18 months, but said she is now less focused on alliances and more on making the software work better for customers.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Your organization is part of HP's Enterprise, Storage and Servers division, yet it works in all areas of HP where there is open-source or Linux activity. How do you measure what contributions you make to HP's fiscal bottom line? And what was that contribution? That's not an easy thing to calculate. We look at a number of different factors -- our Linux server sales, for instance. We have enjoyed No. 1 market share since it's been counted. We also measure how much in Linux and open-source services we help drive. There are some softer measures [such as] how many deals have we helped because we have open-source knowledge? Because of our team, HP is a real contributor to the open-source community, as opposed to being just a consumer. That has a sales benefit. Enterprise customers want to know that the vendor they are entrusting their business to knows how to work with the open-source community.

One analyst compared Hewlett-Packard to Switzerland, because you can play in the Unix, Linux and Windows areas simultaneously without offending any of your partners, such as Microsoft. Meanwhile, your services group cleans up. I like being called the Switzerland of the high-tech industry. It applies in operating systems but also up the stack, as well. Our story is one of choice. Our goal is to have a level playing field across platforms, from HP-UX to Windows to Linux. I know very, very few customers that have a homogenous environment. They have legacy systems to deal with, new applications going up. You can pick the OS that works for you. It's truly open choice, because we don't have a proprietary software stack that we have an ulterior motive to try and steer you to.

IBM is the big company most identified with open-source, more than HP. Sun has made Solaris and other pieces of its technology open-source. And the new CEO Jonathan Schwartz with his ponytail looks like an open-source guy. Is there any danger Sun will eclipse HP in open-source? I'm not very worried about Sun eclipsing us in the mindshare battle or any other one. Our strategy works for customers because it offers them what they need.

Will you be selling and supporting any more open-source applications in the near future? For the initial middleware stacks we're focusing on, we're in pretty good shape. We wanted to have a directory services stack, a database stack and a J2EE stack. We've got the pieces together for that now, and that's what our customers have wanted so far. We'll probably add more components, but right now we have a pretty good mix. What I'm telling the team to focus on is tying these stacks of open-source middleware components to specific commercial application areas or things higher up the stack, like SAP, for example, or specific vertical applications such as key financial services applications.