Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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IBM Flat Despite Cloud Gains, HPE Declares Dividend 

In a financial earnings season like none before, two of the world’s largest enterprise IT infrastructure vendors appear headed in opposite directions.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (NYSE: HPE) declared a dividend this week ahead of its quarterly earnings report scheduled for the end of May. The regular cash dividend totals $0.12 per share of HPE common stock.

Meanwhile, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) reported lower quarterly earnings on Monday (April 20) despite surging cloud demand. The ho-hum IBM results followed a slight revenue increase during the previous quarter. The company also withdrew its fiscal-year guidance, a move that did not surprise analysts during a period of uncertainty and market volatility due to COVID-19. A notable down note in IBM's quarterly report: decline in revenue of 32 percent for Power Systems servers — key to IBM's cognitive computing (AI, machine learning) and HPC strategy — despite an overall rise in IBM hardware systems revenue of 10 percent due to increased sales of IBM Z mainframes and storage hardware.

Investors spooked by the economic repercussions of the pandemic, including the collapse of the global energy futures market, predictably punished IBM’s shares, which were down more than 6 percent by noon Tuesday (April 21).

As with many cloud vendors straining to compete with public cloud giant Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN), the one bright spot for IBM this quarter was growth in its hybrid cloud business, an uptick fueled by its 2018 acquisition of Red Hat.

“We are on hybrid cloud with Red Hat,” IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in an interview with CNBC. “Hybrid cloud is really the ability to take the 20 percent of cloud penetration that is true today and go off to the next 80 percent. And the workloads there are much more mission critical in nature, and much more enterprise in nature.”

That approach reflects the strategy enunciated in early 2019 by Krishna’s predecessor, Ginni Rometty, targeting untapped workloads with a combination of Watson AI tools and expanded cloud services like Red Hat’s OpenShift hybrid cloud platform. Krishna said IBM has doubled the number of OpenShift customers since completing its acquisition of Red Hat last year.

"We've seen that the Red Hat purchase finally broke through for customers last year, and this quarter is no different,” said Heikki Nousiainen, CTO of cloud database vendor Aiven. “Companies are moving everything they’re doing to the cloud, and this transition is fueling giants like IBM who are able to offer cloud storage options while reinforcing its own infrastructure.”

Amid growing economic uncertainty spawned by the pandemic, hybrid cloud vendors appear well positioned to support the growing trend toward home and remote offices. “There’s an enormous drive to capture and process more and more data — and we see this trend in IT spending and what IT departments are spending on,” Aiven’s Nousiainen added.

Meanwhile, HPE’s stock dividend is its third during the company’s fiscal 2020, payable to stockholders at the close of business on June 10.

According to an earnings forecast by Zacks Investment Research, which said it polled six analysts, HPE’s quarterly earnings per share is pegged at $0.32. For the same quarter last year, EPS was $0.42.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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