Are IBM, Cisco and Oracle IT platforms really comparable?

IBM's new PureSystems integrated data center offering is drawing comparisons to Cisco's UCS and other convergence platforms from leading IT vendors.

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But is it possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison among them? Even though all offerings from all vendors seek to essentially accomplish the same things -- integrate server, storage and networking, with management and automation - they come from different foundations.

All are attacking the data center convergence opportunity from their respective positions of strength.

"The technical nuances are all different but it is a platform that integrates a few of the distinct silos," says Jed Scarabella of IDC, on the converged IT data center platform market in general. "HP and IBM have something that integrates servers, networking and storage; Cisco doesn't own storage so it is partnering with EMC and NetApp for VCE and FlexPod; and Oracle is...really more of an application platform.

"They're trying to break down these silos because some of their customers are sort of at their wit's end: budgets are flat, and they keep being asked to do more," Scaramella says. "They've got to find a way to rein in their infrastructure."

Scaramella says there are two flavors of the converged data center infrastructure: the virtual platform that's more of an infrastructure offering - like IBM's PureSystem, HP's Converged Cloud, Dell's Virtual Integrated System and Cisco UCS; and the application play, like the Oracle Cloud Computing approach, in which the customer is looking at the application first and the hardware optimized to run that application comes along with it.

Each vendor is building the offering to their expertise, he says.

"IBM's expertise is integration," Scaramella says. "They did come in with a full-fledged, full thought out product."

IBM has broad hypervisor and operating system support, and they worked with a lot of independent software vendors (ISV) for the PureApplication component of PureSystem.

"That's the part the other guys may not have yet," Scaramella says. "That's something where Cisco knows they have to do a lot more with actual ISVs in getting the applications ready. That's where you'll see more announcements from Cisco over the next few years."

Or do they? Some analysts think Cisco deliberately stopped short of piling everything onto UCS.

"I don't think that these are even remotely competitive," says Joel Snyder, senior partner at Opus One. "The UCS approach has nothing to do with the software layered on top of it. It's a way to get servers provisioned fast, and it works well.

"What IBM seems to be doing is building on top of that a variety of pre-provisioned platforms that include more than just computes, but also storage. So there are some parallels, but Cisco is very careful to stop at the limit of what they can do, and they do not reach any further into things like storage."

IBM's PureFlex component of PureSystem seems to be a prebuilt chassis/storage combination intended to run PureApplication software packages, Snyder says. UCS might be more aligned with what IBM's doing with PureFlex but without the optimized application ecosystem of PureApplication.

"While you might be able to do some compare/contrast between Cisco UCS and PureFlex Systems, the PureApplication system is more like VMware and the VM Appliance marketplace they have tried to build," Snyder says. "So, yeah, I'm not seeing apples-to-apples here."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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