This will be the year in which infrastructure vendors selling a complete stack of virtualisation hardware, software and services battle it out with those selling individual, ‘best-of-breed’ products.
Best-of-breed vendors claim they do one thing better than anyone else, while aiming at easy integration with other products. As the pitch goes, the customer gets the best network switch, blade server, storage array, hypervisor and database available.
The customer theoretically gets the best performance, reliability and security at the lowest possible cost without being tied to any one vendor’s proprietary technology.
Cloud service providers are most capable of tying all these best-of-breed offerings together, since integration is their core skill – and often their differentiator. They argue they can provide better or cheaper services than companies trying to create their own private clouds.
On the other side of the ring, the ‘complete stack’ people are betting that some customers prefer a fully integrated datacentre stack, even if certain components do not measure up to the best-of-class products.
These vendors are offering networks, servers, storage and software pre-configured under one brand, ready to go. Such an approach ought to appeal to smaller companies that often rely on the reseller channel for integration anyway.
The largest, savviest cloud computing providers may appear to be another prime market for these packaged offerings given the massive infrastructures they must deploy and support. But if these companies all choose the same stack, they’ll find it harder to differentiate themselves, or to gain a sustainable cost or performance advantage over their competitors.
Cloud providers want to sell cloud services to many of these same small and medium businesses (SMBs).
Using the same vertical stacks of technology makes it harder for these providers to differentiate themselves from each other and shifts the profit pool to the infrastructure providers.
In fact, it becomes a competitive necessity for a cloud provider to build the most competitive stack they can – better than competitors and differentiated by their expert choice of best-of-breed options.
It also should make an SMB wonder why they should buy services from a cloud provider simply running the same vertical technology stack they could buy themselves.
Service providers are more efficient and may buy less equipment to meet a specific business requirement when the IT function is moved into the cloud. That is bad news for the incumbent infrastructure leaders, and the reason why they are trying to push these new complete stacks to enterprises and to the service providers with which they are really competing.
Assume that over the long term – ten years or more – enterprise IT will be increasingly delivered as a service, either by independent cloud service providers or from enterprises so expert in IT they offer private clouds to their own users, or even to other customers.
Those who cannot handle the integration themselves will have to choose between cloud services from an outside provider, or infrastructure to do it in-house from a single-stack vendor.
I predict this long-term trend towards the cloud will ultimately win since the economics and flexibility of a cloud utility can be widely demonstrated.
I also believe that those single-stack strategies sold to shareholders on the basis of cloud adoption will fail to deliver the results promised, and will be a doomed attempt by industry executives to justify their merger and acquisition strategies as a way to reignite revenues.
Time will tell.
Craig Nunes is vice president of marketing at 3PAR
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