How is it that some people possess the gift of foresight and the ability to predict the future? Some say they have dreams or visions, some extrapolate from experience and logic, while others make predictions hoping to fulfill an agenda. Then there is the element of public exposure. Is the predication public and do they use their real name or hide behind an alias?
Nicholas Carr took was very public and very open when he wrote his breakthrough book "Does IT Matter?". In it, he stated that there are no sustainable advantages to be gained by a company through the implementation of information technology. He argued that any short term gain can be matched by competitors in a relatively short period of time with lower capital investments - effectively punishing companies for innovating. He recognizes the necessity of having IT in order to stay competitive, but finds it difficult to justify being an early adopter of technology.
Since Carr published his book, we've seen a lot of change in IT markets, including the rapid deployments of virtual systems technology and the expansion of hosted, utility computing and all things "cloud." But the biggest changes have resulted from the global financial crisis, forcing companies to reduce non-essential costs significantly - especially IT costs.
Unfortunately, not every technology implementation intended to reduce costs has been successful. And that's one of the things that makes the information technology business so fascinating and perplexing - intelligent people with deep expertise in technology fail to predict the ways that things can go awry and what the cost of their shortsightedness will be.
The rich history of failed IT projects is exactly why there is so much FUD spread by the competitors in our industry - FUD gets customers thinking about the consequences of their purchase decisions and all the possible problems that can result from an error in judgment. It also contributes to the interest in the machinations of our industry and the "war games" that are played out in traditional and social media. Whether we are predicting changes to the industry through mergers and acquisitions or the development of new business models, it all flows into the river of FUD at purchase time.
With the abundance of FUD, one naturally develops an aesthetic for the stuff to cull the weak from the strong. For example, a piece of weak FUD recently appeared online on Silicon Angle titled "Why Netapp Must Seek Acquisition", written by the poser "secretcto". The author starts with the suggestion "let's take a look at the market cap of each of these players" and then neglects to make any comparisons. It goes downhill from there, reaching its lowest point when the article referred to Nicholas Carr as Daniel Carr and then failed to negotiate the transition of whether or not IT matters to cloud service providers. The tipping point for Carr's logic is that to service providers, IT absolutely does matter because operating data centers is their core business.
By contrast, you barely notice good FUD, it has a smooth logical flow and subtly builds to a persuasive conclusion based on a key point that usually has it's origins in a subjective opinion or bias. A decent example of good FUD was Chris Mellor's recent piece about the Storage Array Killing Fields qualifies as good FUD. Chris doesn't have an axe to grind, but he is a journalist and therefore has the responsibility of stirring the pot. It's a well written piece that uses an analogy that compares the selection of equipment for data centers with the selection of components used in an automobile.
The problem is that automobile manufacturing is a poor analogy for running a data center. When a car rolls of the manufacturing line it is shipped to a dealer, sold to a customer who drives it away. There is nothing about the experience of making, selling or buying a car that is even closely related to the constant ongoing data processing services that are provided by a utility or cloud service provider.
A better analogy is running a restaurant. Restaurants succeed or fail based on the quality of their customer service and that's why chefs like Thomas Keller strive to maintain consistent, excellent quality every minute of every day they are open.
Should we expect the recipe for success in hosting and cloud services to be any different? This recent article in Information Age states that 71% of the 450 CIOs in a KPMG survey want to improve the price to quality ratio of their outsourcing contracts. The dynamics of the business relationship between CIOs and their utility/cloud service providers are going to be the same. Service providers with the best reputations for customer service are going to thrive. Those that don't measure up will fail.
Vendors of consolidated stack solutions of servers, storage and software are trying to convince customers that the "All-in-one" stack solution is the safest way to proceed during the transition period while cloud computing is emerging. They would have you believe that the biggest risk in operating a data center is in ordering the products and getting everything installed initially. Considering that customer metrics for utility/cloud service providers will be responding to the needs of their customers quickly and accurately, the lions share of the risk will come well after the initial installation during the life of the service engagement.
The weakness of the All-in-one approach is that it does nothing to address the dicier aspects of owning, operating and changing an IT infrastructure after it is up and running. In many cases the stack vendor's answer to change management will be the same as it is today - time-consuming and expensive professional services. There are definitely utility/cloud service providers that will want this sort of service, but many would prefer to do it themselves at much less cost. That's what you do when your primary business is running a data center.
A talented chef can find a way to prepare a gourmet meal on an Electrochef All In One Kitchen, but they would never decide to run their business with them. They are going to select best of breed appliances and equipment that best fit their needs and enable them to prepare quality dishes in a quality fashion.
So the question for the utility/cloud data center operator then is - "what is best of breed equipment for my business?"
The classic clash between Best-of-breed and All-in-one solution pits cost against complexity. Best-of-breed technology has traditionally been more customizable to fit a wider range of requirements and therefore has been more complicated and expensive to operate. In contrast, All-in-one technology has traditionally been cheaper, limited to a smaller set of functions and easier to operate.
Unfortunately, neither stereotype works very well for the utility/cloud service provider. They need fully functional products that are also easier and quicker to operate. Fast, accurate change management and operator efficiency are the key elements for utility/cloud infrastructure products. 3PAR's Best-of-breed storage products have these characteristics as well as being extremely space-efficient and high-performing. Customers appreciate the amount of time they do not spend managing their 3PAR storage while they are getting the job done. When a new order comes into a 3PAR kitchen, the system is ready to go right away - including tasks that take a long time to set up on other storage, such as Remote Copy.
And what about the All-in-one stacks in the market? Surprisingly, unlike traditional All-in-one solutions, they are more expensive to install and operate. Change management is complex, which leads to relatively poor operator efficiency and the engagement of professional services, which does not necessarily speed up the process. The traditional benefits that All-in-one solutions typically provide are not part of these stack solutions.
The predictions for stacks taking over the market are all wrong. Sure, there will be stack solutions sold and it will take time for all of this to sort itself out as it always does when an industry is going through major, fundamental changes. The most important changes that will occur in the years to come will be driven by the service demands placed on utility/cloud service providers. Customers of utility/cloud services want their money's worth and the best service providers will do what it takes to give it to them. Stacks add no value in that equation.