In the last couple of weeks, I finally put a couple of pieces together . . . the tech industry is pushing hard, down two parallel tracks, toward much more resource-efficient computing architectures.
Track 1: Integrated systems. Computer suppliers are putting hardware components (including compute, network, and storage) together with middleware and application software in pre-integrated packages. The manufacturers will do assembly and testing of these systems in their factories, rather than on the customer's site. And they will tailor the system — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the system — to the characteristics of the workload(s) it will be running.
The idea is to use general-purpose components (microprocessors, memory, network buses, and the like) to create special-purpose systems on a mass-customization basis. This trend has been evident for a while in the Oracle Exadata and Cisco UCS systems; IBM's Pure systems introductions push it even further into pre-configured applications and systems management.
Track 2. Modular data centers. Now, zoom out from individual computing systems to aggregations of those systems into data centers. And again, assemble as much of the componentry as possible in the factory rather than on-site. Vendors like Schneider, Emerson, and the systems shops like IBM and HP are creating a design approach and infrastructure systems that will allow data centers to be designed in modular fashion, with much of the equipment like air handling and power trucked to the customer's site, set up in the parking lot, and quickly turned on.
No need to revisit the success of iPad. The millions of units sold since April speaks for itself. While most of these have been purchased at retail, many buyers use their tablets for work, often sponsored or supported by an enlightened IT organization. 2011 will be a big year for iPad in the enterprise.
But what about the countless number of tablets from other manufacturers? These anything-but-iPad (ABi) tablets promise enticing characteristics that Content & Collaboration professionals cherish, things like Flash media support, enterprise app stores, and sometimes greatly enhanced security (as RIM’s Playbook will have) or deep links to the unified communications infrastructure (as Cisco’s Cius will have) or full Microsoft Office support (as HP’s Slate will have).
How will these ABi tablets fare in the enterprise in 2011? Fair to partly cloudy, I fear. Three gating factors will slow enterprise adoption:
Many ABI tablets and particularly those from RIM and Cisco and HP will be sold primarily to companies. So in a world of smartphone and tablet consumerization where employees bring personal devices to work, the leading ABi business tablets are being sold through the enterprise door. This will slow down adoption as IT buyers find the budget and evaluate the alternatives. In contrast, iPad is available to consumers as well as directly to businesses. So IT can at least temporarily sidestep the issues of funding and data plan provisioning while developing a tablet strategy. It’s an easier business case to make in 2011. Of course, other Android tablets are available to consumers and will come in through the employee door.