The more the enterprise embraces the cloud for everything from storage and recovery to higher order application development and productivity functions, the more it seems that the old titans of data center infrastructure are losing clout with their customers.
But are things really that bad for HP, IBM, Dell and other top platform providers? It might seem so for HP, at least, given the spate of bad news the company has endured of late. Last week's $8.8 billion write-down on the Autonomy acquisition would be enough to cause anyone to question the company's prospects, but as TechCrunch's Alex Williams points out, this is more than just a financial blunder. The entire enterprise software model is under threat as new cloud services significantly ease the burden of deployment, integration and management, even while new software developers are proving highly adept at satisfying the mobile/collaborative needs of the modern work force. To be fair, the stalwarts are taking steps to address these issues as well, but they face a lot of institutional resistance in overcoming long-held sales and channel distribution practices.
It's also true that the top platform providers are all branching into cloud services as well. HP claims its CloudSystem has more than 850 users at this point, while the Service Anywhere SaaS platform is said to be growing at double-digit rates. Meanwhile, Dell and IBM are aiming their clouds at specific functions, such as Big Data and mobile device support in the case of IBM's SmartCloud, and medical data archiving for Dell's Unified Clinical Archive solution. And it goes without saying that firms that already have extensive ties to traditional data center infrastructure stand a better chance of integrating private and public architectures to meet the growing demand for hybrid solutions.
But will this be enough? Top cloud providers like Amazon have already drawn substantial followings to their platforms, driven primarily by user preference rather than official corporate decision-making. As GigaOm's Barb Darrow points out, nearly all of the Fortune 1000 are most likely on Amazon already, whether they know it or not. It probably won't be long before these deployments move past the test and development phase into real-world workloads, and this despite the number of public outages that Amazon has suffered in the past year. A hot brand works just as well in the cloud as on the supermarket shelf.
All of this is shaping up to be an extraordinarily competitive environment for the coming decade. The enterprise has long been single-mindedly focused on delivering the highest productivity at the lowest possible cost, and traditionally this drive has played out among the top data center infrastructure players. But with the cloud, there is an entirely new architecture on the table, one that poses dramatically lower costs and is arguably more adept at accommodating rapidly evolving data environments.
No matter what happens, however, there will be ample opportunities for traditional platform developers for some time to come. But it is becoming clear that the enterprise industry will no longer turn on the capabilities going into bricks-and-mortar data center infrastructure.