Both Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) are building their public clouds on OpenStack, the emerging open source platform for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). That's good news for OpenStack advocates and customers that may want to potentially shift cloud workloads from HP to Dell -- or vice versa. But will HP and Dell differentiate enough from each other in the cloud? I'm betting yes.

Michael Dell and his executive team discussed OpenStack a bit last week during the Dell World conference in Austin, Texas. For its part, HP since early 2012 has vowed to run its cloud on OpenStack.

Still, I believe channel partners don't yet have a feel for where OpenStack may fit in their cloud strategies. Those channel partners have a range of options from which to choose, including:

So how will OpenStack eventually win out against those options? Rackspace, a vocal OpenStack proponent, has often said customers will demand OpenStack clouds because it will be far easier to move workloads from one OpenStack provider to the next.

But that begs the question: Will HP and Dell essentially build identical, competing OpenStack clouds? I think not. 

Take a look at Dell's recent acquisitions, and you'll see how the Dell Cloud will likely attract channel partners.

  • Dell's buyout of Quest Software, completed in mid-2012, involved numerous virtualizartion, IT management and application migration tools for Microsoft customers. If you're running on-premises Microsoft Exchange, it's a safe bet Quest and its channel partners will show you how to leap into Dell's cloud at some point.
  • Similarly, Dell Boomi -- the cloud integration platform -- could allow channel partners to connect the dots between Dell Cloud and dozens of third-party cloud services. Michael Dell shared some of the Boomi strategy with Talkin' Cloud during the Windows 8 launch.

HP, meanwhile, seems focused on an SLA (service level agreement) push against Amazon, promising the strongest SLAs among public cloud service providers. More recently HP has discussed:

  • HP Cloud Compute, a pay-as-you-go model that gives users the ability to deploy and customize compute instances on demand.
  • HP Cloud Block Storage, which is a storage solution that enables users to move data from one compute instance to another. It's now entering public beta.
  • HP Cloud Application Platform as a Service, which enables developers and ISVs to focus on application development and deployment. Based on Cloud Foundry Open PaaS, it was designed to support multi-application infrastructure, as well as instant provisioning and deployment with a single click.
  • HP Cloud Workload Migration Services, which will be delivered through HP's partners and that help users assess, plan and migrate existing production workloads to HP's public cloud infrastructure without any user interruption.

The bottom line: If Dell and HP build identical IaaS offerings atop OpenStack software and Intel hardware, the duo will be locked in another commodity price war. I don't think either company will allow that to happen...