Recently I’ve been living a double life. By day a mild-mannered functionary for Forrester Research, helping I&O professionals cope with the hurly-burly of our rapid-paced world. By night I have been equipping myself with an iPhone, iPad and trying out any other mobile devices I can get my hands on, including Dell Stream, Android phones, and the incredibly appealing new Apple Macbook Air. While my colleague Ted Schadler has been writing on these devices from a more strategic perspective, I wanted to see what the daily experience felt like and simultaneously get a perspective from our I&O customers about their experiences.
So, the first question, is the mobile phenomenon real? The answer is absolutely yes. While the rise of mobile devices is a staple of every vendor’s strategic pitch, it also seems to be a real trend. In conversations with I&O groups, I have been polling them on mobile devices in their company, and the feedback has been largely the same – employees are buying their own consumer devices and using them for work, forcing I&O, security and email/collaboration application owners, often well outside of plan, to support them. Why can’t IT groups “just say no”? The answer is that IT in rational companies is fundamentally in the fundamental business of enabling business, and the value and productivity unlocked by these devices is too much to pass up.
There has been a lot of press about IBM’s acquisition of BNT (Blade Network Technologies) focusing on the economics and market share of BNT as a competitor to Cisco and HP’s ProCurve/3Com franchise. But at its heart the acquisition is more about defending and expanding a position in the emerging converged server, networking, and storage infrastructure segment than it is about raw switch port market share. It is also a powerful vindication of the proposition that infrastructure convergence is driving major realignment in the vendor industry.
Starting with HP’s success with its c-Class blade servers and Virtual Connect technology, and escalating with Cisco’s entrance into the server market, IBM continued its investment in its Virtual Fabric and Open Fabric Manager technology, heavily leveraging BNT’s switch platforms. At some point it became clear that BNT was a critical element of IBM’s convergence strategy, with IBM’s plans now heavily dependent on a vendor with whom they had an excellent, but non-exclusive relationship, and one whose acquisition by another player could severely compromise their product plans. Hence the acquisition. Now that it owns BNT, IBM can capitalize on its excellent edge network technology for further development of its converged infrastructure strategy without hesitation about further leveraging BNT’s technology.
I recently spent a day with IBM’s x86 team, primarily to get back up to speed on their entire x86 product line, and partially to realign my views of them after spending almost five years as a direct competitor. All in all, time well spent, with some key takeaways:
IBM has fixed some major structural problems with the entire x86 program and it perception in the company – As recently as two years ago, it appeared to the outside world that IBM was not really serious about x86 servers. Between licensing its low-end server designs to Lenovo (although IBM continued to sell its own versions) and an apparent retreat to the upper-end of the segment, it appeared that IBM was not serious about x86 severs. New management, new alignment with sales, and a higher internal profile for x86 seems to have moved the division back into IBM’s mainstream.
Increased investment – It looks like IBM significantly ramped up investments in x86 products about three years ago. The result has been a relatively steady flow of new products into the marketplace, some of which, such as the HS22 blade, significantly reversed deficits versus equivalent HP products. Others followed in high-end servers, virtualization and systems management, and increased velocity of innovation in low-end systems.
Established leadership in new niches such as dense modular server deployments – IBM’s iDataplex, while representing a small footprint in terms of their total volume, gave them immediate visibility as an innovator in the rapidly growing niche for hyper scale dense deployments. Along the way, IBM has also apparently become the leader in GPU deployments as well, another low-volume but high-visibility niche.