Say one thing about the commoditization of data center infrastructure, it offers organizations unprecedented leeway in crafting the kinds of data environments that can be optimized for their individual needs.
This has led the vendor and cloud communities to shift away from generic IT solutions to platforms designed for key industry verticals that are looking to leverage scale-out, software-defined technologies for Big Data, social networking and other cutting-edge applications.
In many cases, this has resulted in long-standing industry titans simply expanding existing working relationships. HP and Intel, for instance, recently launched a new initiative aimed at tailoring high-performance computing (HPC) solutions to data-intensive industries like finance, energy and bio-tech. The program involves a new Center of Excellence designed to foster best practices in developing, deploying and managing HPC facilities, but it also incorporates HP’s HPC Solutions Framework based on the Apollo server, which itself is built on Intel’s scalable systems framework and the Omni-Path interconnect. As well, the platform features industry-facing software from a range of third-party developers, plus the Intel Enterprise Edition of the Lustre parallel file system.
At the same time, however, top vendors are reaching out to cloud upstarts in a bid to extend broad optimization into distributed and hybrid architectures. IBM’s recent agreement with Box is one such example in that it allows IBM to incorporate Box APIs into a range of enterprise services and applications while at the same time bringing advanced analytics, collaboration and security capabilities to Box storage users. In this way, both organizations can define vertical data environments or simply allow organizations to craft their own designs.
This increasing focus on vertical markets is affecting the channel as well, says CT Link CEO Jim Burton. Distributors and resellers evolved from simple product movers to full partners and integrators ages ago, but lately the focus has been on crafting specialized solutions for key clients using available systems and platforms. Now that many channel partners are mounting their own cloud presences, vertical market specialization is becoming commonplace and in fact leverages the strengths that many providers have over their suppliers in the vendor community, namely high levels of design and integration expertise and close working relationships with enterprise customers.
While vertical solutions may provide tailored service that many enterprises desire, there is the risk of overdoing it, says NetSuite’s Jim McGeever. The ease with which new cloud environments can be created these days leads to the temptation to create a fully watertight platform focused on highly specific applications and workflows. But this can sometimes inhibit an organization’s ability to adapt to market conditions or even transform entirely if the vertical in question suddenly loses its legs. In fact, it is a bit odd that vertical IT stacks are emerging just at a time when key industry verticals, like manufacturing and ecommerce, are merging. So while optimized cloud platforms can do wonders to improve competitiveness within key business models, care should be taken to ensure that over-reliance on these solutions does not impair flexibility in today’s fast-moving, highly dynamic digital economy.
The good news is that the cloud has the unique ability to provide just the right mix of general-purpose and customizable computing elements that allow the enterprise to tailor their data environment to both current and emerging business needs. And it can do this at less cost and with far less complexity than yesterday’s rigid data infrastructure.
The challenge going forward, then, is not so much architecting the right data environment for your business needs, but figuring out what those needs are and how they will change in the near future. From there, finding the right system for the business you have in mind should be relatively easy.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.