Hewlett-Packard Expands to Cambridge via Vertica’s “Big Data” Center

1/23/12Follow @gthuang

There’s a new big tech company in town. In fact, it’s arguably the world’s biggest technology company (by revenue), and it’s joining the ranks of IBM, EMC, Microsoft, Google, and, most recently, Amazon, in expanding to the Boston-Cambridge area.

Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) has set up a new office in Cambridge, MA. The operation will serve as a center for technology development, licensing, and outreach to local startups, investors, and researchers. The 37,000-square-foot facility at 150 CambridgePark Drive, near the Alewife subway station, is spread over two floors. The building serves as the new headquarters for Vertica, the Boston-area big-data analytics firm that HP bought last winter. Vertica is in the process of moving its 150 employees from its offices in Billerica to the Cambridge facility this month, and it is currently hiring.

HP already had a sizable presence in Massachusetts, with its campus in Andover. But the new Cambridge office represents an unprecedented investment by HP in outreach and partnerships with local entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, and the academic research community in the Boston area. The company hasn’t specified a firm commitment of future dollars, but just setting up the new space—including a state-of the art lab and all its associated infrastructure—has cost more than $10 million, says Chris Lynch, the chief executive of Vertica. (His HP title is vice president and general manager.)

Lynch, who is leading the new facility, calls it a “big-data center of excellence” for HP. The idea is it will be a technology hub for the firm, a bit like HP Labs in Palo Alto—but different. (Lynch wouldn’t go so far as to call it “HP Labs East.”) The center will be a base from which HP could make deals to license its technology or invest in early-stage startups alongside venture firms, he says. The center also plans to bring in students and early-stage entrepreneurs for hackathons and other tech-themed events. And it will serve as a base for other types of outreach, such as to local K-12 schools, Lynch says.

So why Alewife instead of, say, Kendall Square? “We wanted to bridge the gap between getting access to the younger people living in Cambridge and Somerville, who want to take the T or bike to work, and the older constituencies, like me, who want to drive and park,” Lynch says. “It’s a compromise for sure.”

But the location should help Vertica and HP better collaborate with (and recruit) students and professors from nearby schools with lots of technical talent in software and databases, like MIT, Harvard, and Brandeis.

HP’s acquisition of Vertica, a deal since revealed to be worth $300 million, marked the Palo Alto tech giant’s entry into data analytics and business intelligence. (HP has been better known for its printers, computers, and servers.) Now it seems Lynch has convinced the higher-ups at HP that there’s a greater opportunity at stake here in Boston. “Netezza [now part of IBM] and Vertica are just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.

He’s talking about the massive expertise and broad ecosystem around Boston in big data analytics and database technologies—from established companies like EMC, Endeca (now part of Oracle), and ITA Software (now part of Google), to startups like Hadapt, Hopper, Cloudant, Basho, TwinStrata, Tokutek, Nasuni, Kyruus, Ginger.io, Locu, Kinvey, Session M, and many others. Just today, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council released a new report about big opportunities for Bay State businesses working on big data.

And that fits with how Vertica’s leader sees things too. Lynch started his career with Digital Equipment Corporation in the late ‘80s before helping lead Arrowpoint Communications (bought by Cisco Systems in 2000) and Acopia Networks (bought by F5 Networks in 2007). A longtime Bostonian, he watched Massachusetts cede its leadership position in computing to Silicon Valley, with the fall of DEC and other firms in the ‘90s. So he wears his passion for the local tech community on his sleeve.

“Big data is one of the trends that can lead the resurgence in Boston technology,” Lynch says. “We need to leverage the big data mind-trust in Boston.” He adds that he personally wants to help 20 local companies get started in the field over the next year, through advising, mentoring, forming partnerships, and making angel investments.

As Lynch sees it, the key to Boston’s long-term future as a tech hub is developing its talent base—and keeping it here to build local startups. “Companies come and go. If you’re reliant on any one company, it’s ultimately going to end in tears,” he says. “New England is about self-reliance. If you create your own opportunities, you’re not dependent on any one trend. At the end of the day, competence is job security.”

For its part, Vertica says its staff has grown by about 30 percent in the Boston area since the acquisition, and it plans to grow by at least that much this coming year. The company is looking to hire across all departments.

“The definition of Vertica is expanding,” Lynch says. “We’re extending our roadmap.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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