When you look at the IT Industry there's a single question many of the major vendors are ducking, for now. Well, perhaps not entirely true, but certainly the subject of some deep soul-searching and it has to do with branding! More specifically, we identify with our major vendor whenever we see the presence of one of their systems inside our data center.
We know it is an IBM or an HP or a Dell simply because we can readily see a badge or logo or even a system name that identifies what system it is. These logos may be smaller than they used to be, but a company badge is almost certainly affixed somewhere to the chassis housing its system.
In much the same way we see a financial institutions' brand visibly on display each time we pass one of their branch offices. With the computer systems, as it is with financial institutions, much of our knowledge and familiarity with the brand is tied to how widespread the brand is.
However, what has industry leaders scratching their collective heads is the transformation under way within many data centers. It isn't just the first tentative steps towards running enterprise class applications on clouds so much as it is about running enterprise class applications on commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. Oftentimes, ubiquitous as well as brand-less, rack upon rack of COTS are all we see and running on them are one implementation or another of a virtual machine whereby what constituted a real system is completely hidden from view.
What constitutes a mainframe? Likewise, what constitutes a NonStop? IBM has already progressed down the path of running mainframe applications free of the underlying hardware – their longtime adherence to a separation between Logical Partitions (LPARs), whereby multiple sets of resources can be operated independently complete with separate operating system images as well as application suites. More recently, independent vendors have stepped in to offer alternate virtual machine offerings clearly demonstrating that the mainframe is also free of much of the underlying infrastructure.
When it comes to NonStop the arrival of the NonStop X has demonstrated that the NonStop stack is likewise free of the hardware and increasingly, as seen in public demonstrations of late, free of the infrastructure as well. All of which is to say that very soon potential customers of all systems, from mainframes to NonStop systems to Linux servers, will have a choice as to what hardware to run their solutions on, and in all likelihood this will come down to price.
Freedom to choose is not something major vendors are comfortable with right now and yet momentum seems to be building to the point where they may have to take a look at how to reinforce their brand and keep their corporate identity very much in the eye of all IT professionals. Suddenly, freedom to choose is looking more like abandoning years of established relationships and a potential indifference of the customers to what hardware is installed. When you adopt virtualization you leave behind much of the traditional world of IT the major vendors have worked so hard at creating for many decades.
However, steps along this path leading to much greater choice have been happening for quite a while. The first time a major data center opted for a "lights out" backup site few would argue that, with the lights out, what was running didn't amount to much so long as it was compatible. With the arrival of clouds and the provisioning of resources that cloud vendors support has only further obscured whatever image we may have had of the hardware – we no longer have a clue, unless we mandate a viewing of the cloud vendors' site(s).
Visualization however comes in many forms and perhaps the most important visualization any of us need to have is one of our applications running in accordance of our business needs. If branding disappears from the hardware, even as the hardware itself disappears from the floor of our data center and we can't tell whether we are running a mainframe or NonStop application, our only clue as to what is behind an application may come from an operations console.
Modern application performance monitoring solutions do an admirable job at visualization of applications as they run. In all my time with IR, the Prognosis solution provides all any of us needs to stay abreast of all that our applications are doing – but somewhere on Prognosis' screens can we expect to see the logos of IBM, HPE, Dell, etc.? Are we reaching a point where major vendors' branding will be reduced to playing a secondary role to whatever is visualizing the operations?
Understandably, this is cause for concern among the major vendors but pushing back on application performance monitoring solutions, for instance, isn't the answer. It isn't even a case of retaking ownership of all the operations consoles as this ship too has sailed. And the PC, laptop or mobile device being used to interface to the applications isn't a priority either – too many executives on the move are relying on apps on the iPhone to give any real clarity as to what's behind the application. On the other hand, the opportunity for vendors like IR is enormous and it's not just a case of being able to support a single pane of glass.
What major vendors are missing is that today it's the applications that count – that is what enterprises everywhere identify with more so than any individual hardware resource the application may require. Today, watching television on my Sharp TV connected to my Sony audio system driving sound out of my Bowers&Wilkins speakers is lost on me as all I interface to is my DirecTV controller – this handheld controller of all the software I run on my television is my only clue to the identity of my primary vendor, and it's no longer Sharp of Sony or whoever supplies the hardware.
It's a new world and it will be brought to you courtesy of your application performance monitoring solution. The major vendors may be apprehensive about this development even if it is an unintended consequence of the transformation under way within the data center, but for every enterprise running applications necessary to growing their business the future of hardware is becoming less important. Next time you sit down with any major vendor be sure to invite them to visit any of your applications consoles before asking them – what's behind the screen?