When 'Integration' Can Mean 'Lock-In'

Loraine Lawson

Major technology companies are shifting how they create and think about IT solutions. Read up on recent releases by IBM, HP and Oracle and you'll find the focus is on "integration" and "interoperability." But oddly enough, this trend could lead to more vendor lock-in.


It's all about marrying existing software to hardware in a way that optimizes the performance of both. These appliances offer end-user organizations several advantages, according to David Menninger, vice president and research director at Ventana Research:

  1. They're easier and faster to put in place, because everything is preconfigured and pre-tested.
  2. Appliances tend to build in some redundancy, which ensures you have maximum availability.
  3. No more being bounced back and forth between the hardware vendor and the software vendor. If it doesn't work, you know precisely who to choke.


The big announcements at Oracle OpenWorld this week are perfect examples of this shift. As Menninger shared, Oracle unveiled its latest appliance solution, Exalytics, as well as plans for its Hadoop/NoSQL-based Big Data appliance. And then there was more talk about Exadata, another software/hardware combo for the company's appliance for data warehousing.


But if you're wondering whether this approach can be successful in this day, look no further than the nearest iPod. As this ZDNet Asia article notes, Apple has successfully applied this approach in the consumer market; although, unlike some of the big enterprise vendors, Apple didn't have to enter the service or software through acquisition.

Experts say there are two trends driving this shift in how vendors approach solutions. First, there's cloud computing, which Menninger says is placing "competitive pressure on traditional vendors to provide solutions that have similar characteristics including ease of use, simplified setup and lower administration costs." Second, there's the profitably problems inherent in hardware these days, according to ZDNet Asia.

"Integrated solutions are the main ingredient to keeping hardware afloat," Beau Skonieczny, research analyst of computing practices at Technology Business Research, told ZDNet. "By owning the core IP behind software, services and hardware offerings, vendors are better positioned to establish more efficient and cost-effective ways to integrate the solutions with one another."

That's why it's important for IT vendors to own the entire software, services and hardware stack, he continues.

Sounds great, right? Well, there are what I would call "side effects," the most concerning of which is that it could lead to vendor lock-in, warns Menninger:

Once you invest in one of these systems you no longer have the option to swap out one software component for another. Similarly, as hardware advances, you are stuck with what you have, since the vendor probably won't be willing to retrofit new components into its existing appliance.

There's another, less predictable "side effect": The potential transformation of roles and responsibility within IT, as DBAs are seeing with Exadata, according to PC World. Traditionally, managing database implementations required server technicians, networking experts and DBAs, but Andy Flowers, managing director of Right Triangle Consulting, told PC World Exadata's integration reduces that down to one manager of the whole. That's not necessarily a bad thing for a company's bottom line - but it does put new demands on whoever steps into this new role.

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