The Conflict over Data Center Convergence

Michael Vizard

Vendors such as Cisco, EMC, IBM and HP for the last several months have been advocating for the adoption of a new class of servers that tightly integrates servers, storage and networking functionality.

From a technology perspective, these systems are easier to deploy, addressing one of the biggest concerns that senior IT executives and business leaders have about the cost of computing. After all, the cost is in all the IT specialists that need to be hired to run our servers, networks and storage. These new servers set the stage for consolidating many of those positions by making it easier to for fewer IT people to manage integrated sets of server, networking and storage resources.

As you might well imagine, this sets these vendors up for conflict with the rank and file IT staffs that many of them previously counted on for support. It's a bit of a challenge to tell a customer that you are trying to make it easier for, say, the server administrator to do the job of the networking or storage administrator.

EMC and Cisco are trying to do an end run around this conflict with the creation of Acadia, a joint venture with its own sales staff that will initially focus on selling a version of a converged data center architecture, called Vblocks, under the auspices of a Virtual Computing Environment coalition.

The idea is that Acadia, led by former HP president Michael Capellas, will call directly on business leaders at large Fortune 1000-class customers that want dedicated help in setting up Vblock systems. As many of these organizations already have internal IT organizations, you may well ask why Cisco and EMC need a separate business unit to call on Fortune 1000 customers when they already have salespeople blanketing every one of those customers. Chances are those EMC and Cisco salespeople might not be too excited about antagonizing their existing IT customer relationships by being seen as advocating systems that could replace the need for many storage and network administrators.

David Hart, CTO for Presidio Network Solutions, an IT services company that partners with EMC, Cisco and others, worries that this new approach to Vblock sales not only sets EMC and Cisco up for conflict with many business partners, it also seeks to divide the business leaders from their internal IT organizations. There's an old maxim about how dividing can lead to conquering, but in this case it could also jeopardize many existing IT relationships.

There has always been a divide between IT and the business customers they serve. But as vendors try to exploit that divide first with outsourcing services and now dedicated business units that are essentially selling around the IT staff, the likelihood that this approach might blow up in their collective faces is pretty high as IT staffers suddenly start to prefer doing business with vendors that are not seen to be threatening their jobs. In fact, EMC, on the one hand, is encouraging IT organizations to build private clouds, while on the other funding Acadia to build and manage a provide cloud computing platform.

The providers of these integrated servers say their approach still allows customers to manage servers, storage and networking as distinct layers of computing. But they also say convergence in the data center is inevitable. The question is, will it require a forklift server upgrade or will more software-only approaches to data center convergence ultimately win the day as IT organizations look to avoid putting all their proverbial IT eggs in one basket.

Obviously, this latest conflict is just getting started. But if you're in IT today, you might want to pay very close attention to what your vendor is telling you versus your boss. The two stories are likely to be very different indeed.

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