I met recently with Cisco’s UCS group in San Jose to get a quick update on sales and maybe some hints about future development. The overall picture is one of rapid growth decoupled from whatever pressures Cisco management has cautioned about in other areas of the business.
Overall, according to recent disclosure by Cisco CEO John Chambers, Cisco’s UCS revenue is growing at a 550% Y/Y growth rate, with the most recent quarterly revenues indicating a $500M run rate (we make that out as about $125M quarterly revenue). This figure does not seem to include the over 4,000 blades used by Cisco IT, nor does it include units being consumed internally by Cisco and subsequently shipped to customers as part of appliances or other Cisco products. Also of note is the fact that it is fiscal Q1 for Cisco, traditionally its weakest quarter, although with an annual growth rate in excess of 500% we would expect that UCS sequential quarters will be marching to a totally different drummer than the overall company numbers.
I have been working on a research document, to be published this quarter, on the impact of 8-socket x86 servers based on Intel’s new Xeon 7500 CPU. In a nutshell, these systems have the performance of the best-of-breed RISC/UNIX systems of three years ago, at a substantially better price, and their overall performance improvement trajectory has been steeper than competing technologies for the past decade.
This is probably not shocking news and is not the subject of this current post, although I would encourage you to read it when it is finally published. During the course of researching this document I spent time trying to prove or disprove my thesis that x86 system performance solidly overlapped that of RISC/UNIX with available benchmark results. The process highlighted for me the limitations of using standardized benchmarks for performance comparisons. There are now so many benchmarks available that system vendors are only performing each benchmark on selected subsets of their product lines, if at all. Additionally, most benchmarks suffer from several common flaws:
They are results from high-end configurations, in many cases far beyond the norm for any normal use cases, but results cannot be interpolated to smaller, more realistic configurations.
They are often the result of teams of very smart experts tuning the system configurations, application and system software parameters for optimal results. For a large benchmark such as SAP or TPC, it is probably reasonable to assume that there are over 1,000 variables involved in the tuning effort. This makes the results very much like EPA mileage figures — the consumer is guaranteed not to exceed these numbers.
Fujitsu? Who? I recently attended Fujitsu’s global analyst conference in Boston, which gave me an opportunity to check in with the best kept secret in the North American market. Even Fujitsu execs admit that many people in this largest of IT markets think that Fujitsu has something to do with film, and few of us have ever seen a Fujitsu system installed in the US unless it was a POS system.
So what is the management of this global $50 Billion information and communications technology company, with a competitive portfolio of client, server and storage products and a global service and integration capability, going to do about its lack of presence in the world’s largest IT market? In a word, invest. Fujitsu’s management, judging from their history and what they have disclosed of their plans, intends to invest in the US over the next three to four years to consolidate their estimated $3 Billion in N. American business into a more manageable (simpler) set of operating companies, and to double down on hiring and selling into the N. American market. The fact that they have given themselves multiple years to do so is very indicative of what I have always thought of as Fujitsu’s greatest strength and one of their major weaknesses – they operate on Japanese time, so to speak. For an American company to undertake to build a presence over multiple years with seeming disregard for quarterly earnings would be almost unheard of, so Fujitsu’s management gets major kudos for that. On the other hand, years of observing them from a distance also leads me to believe that their approach to solving problems inherently lacks the sense of urgency of some of their competitors.
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.
Historically, the positioning of Dell versus its two major competitors for high-value enterprise business, particularly where it involved complex services and the ability to deliver deeply integrated infrastructure and management stacks, has been as sort of an also ran. Competitors looked at Dell as a price spoiler and a channel for standard storage and networking offerings from its partners, not as a potential threat to the high-ground of being able to deliver complex integrated infrastructure solutions.
This comforting image of Dell as being a glorified box pusher appears to be coming to an end. When my colleague Andrew Reichman recently wrote about Dell’s attempted acquisition of 3Par, it made me take another look at Dell’s recent pattern of investments and the series of announcements they have made around delivering integrated infrastructure with a message and solution offering that looks like it is aimed squarely at HP and IBM's Virtual Fabric.
Two weeks ago, Forrester went to Brazil for Brasscom’s (the local IT and country promotion group) Global IT Forum in Sao Paulo and Rio. One of the most interesting and insightful presentations was by Jairo Avritchir, Brazil IT site director of Dell. Jairo talked about Dell’s experiences and how the firm’s utilization of the country and its rich IT talent pool had evolved. Initially, it was largely in support of the company’s local sales and manufacturing operations. Today, the center has emerged as a BI and analytics hub for the global organization. Given the 40% appreciation against the dollar over the past eight years, the COE strategy around higher-end BI skills was the only way the center could compete with India. The Dell example clearly points out how both clients and vendors need to think about and fully utilize their alternative geography investments. A blog post at Computer Weekly touches on this topic as well.
The Dell Streak launches this morning in the UK at O2 and Carphone Warehouse. Dell calls the Streak a 5” tablet – I see a slightly larger touchscreen smartphone that I hope will be ideal for collaboration tasks. While I have not performed a hands-on test, I did talk with Neeraj Choubey, general manager of tablets in Dell's Communications Solutions Group.
What does the Streak have? A 5” screen displays navigation, browser, and social networking. In addition to connectivity via Wi-Fi, 3G, and Bluetooth, the Streak boasts two cameras – a 5 megapixel camera on the back for taking pictures with the dual LED flash and a backward-facing VGA camera for videoconferencing. All this runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipset and Google Android operating system.
In today’s mobile world, information workers attend one or more meetings every day, and almost a third of their team members are not collocated with them (Ted Schadler writes about this in his report, “A Day In The Life Of A US Information Worker”). They are also out of the office more and more frequently – more than a third of information workers are out of the office regularly. This calls for solutions and devices that enable these mobile workers to communicate and collaborate – and the Streak fits nicely into market whitespace to fill this need.
In June, 2007, Forrester declared the beginning of the Age of Style. The Age of Style thesis posited that style and visual design would become critical vectors of competition in consumer electronics. We started our coverage of this trend with consumer PCs predicting that form factor innovations, increased aesthetic diversity, and consumer choice and personalization would become central tenets of competition for consumer PCs.
The baseline of comparison, of course was grim: For many years, consumers' home PCs and work PCs looked rather the same. Mostly bland and functional PCs reigned, aside from the products offered by a few trailblazers like Apple and Sony. But the growth of multi-PC households transformed PCs from "digital hearths" for the entire household into personal devices. Next, laptops moved the PC from the den out into the world -- making PCs devices that are public in nature.
Personal, public devices lend themselves to personalization and customization. Consumers wish to self-express through their choices: The color I like, a theme I enjoy, an association (with an organization or another brand), or even my personal beliefs -- as with the PRODUCT (RED) PC we wrote about when it was released. Self-actualization through the PC I carry with me is often, now, a goal for many consumers.