Cosying up to vendors brings risks: Burton

Take a closer look at the risks that accompany too much "handholding" with the likes of Dell, HP, IBM and Sun, Gartner told IT managers last week and warned of the perils of relying too heavily on the Big Four system vendors.

The idea of "plugging into" IT may be an appealing way for enterprises to offload their infrastructure management, but issues surrounding vendor lock-in and loss of control are possible side effects, analysts warned.

Gartner’s vice president and research director, Betsy Burton, said the new wave of technology and services are ways to offload IT and the move to “passive IT” is tempting for companies with the “I don’t want to deal with IT” mentality.

“There are great benefits [in passive IT] if you don’t have the in-house skill sets,” Burton said. “However, it needs to be entered with an open mind. This ‘plug into’ IT idea is value the large vendors can bring.”

Speaking at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo in Sydney, Gartner’s Asia-Pacific vice president Matthew Boon joined Burton in a critical assessment of the benefits and potential pitfalls of the four "powerhouse" vendors.

“There is a scale of passive IT,” Burton said. “There is open standards computing which results in more market pricing pressure, and there is vendor-based, or ‘hold my hand’ computing which comes with the risk of getting locked in. Also, vendor-based computing has the potential to put you in a quickly consolidated market.”

Burton described this “scale” of passive IT as going from the more standards-based communications and networking infrastructure to the vendor-specific data management and application space.

Regardless of the vendor specifics, Boon expressed doubt about the readiness of passive IT to impact the enterprise.

“We are still in the early stages of utility computing,” he said. “The level of maturity needs to improve with these technologies.”

Boon said recent trends include a move by systems vendors into software and server virtualisation.

“Virtualisation evolves at every level; however, companies will still have to deal with the software management issues,” he said.

Burton said this move into software has a lot to do with Linux.

“The number of organisations willing to deploy Linux surprised us,” she said. “When you look at Linux, consider the strategies of the powerhouse vendors.”

Pros and cons of the Big Four

The big four systems vendors have their pros and cons when being considered for purchases, Gartner said.

“Dell is not a technology vendor, it’s a distributor but this is a strength for them,” Gartner's Betsy Burton said. “Dell getting help from Oracle and Microsoft is giving them enterprise credibility.”

Burton said HP still has work to do with product line integration, has a fragmented software vision, and continues to draw a large proportion of its revenue from printers.

As for Sun, Burton said the company is “naïve about marketing”.

“We are hearing pieces of strategy from Sun but it has a hard time getting that out,” she said. “Sun is also now in a dramatic move to Linux which it has to be.”

However, according to Gartner analyst Matthew Boon, Sun missed a great opportunity Linux.

“When you get down to it, it’s very much a background approach,” he said. “You need to be careful about what you are getting from Sun.”

With “all the parts to be successful”, IBM hasn’t demonstrated all the pieces working together, Burton said.

“IBM is executing a clear strategy which is a big challenge for a big company,” she said. “The company’s xSeries market share has grown rapidly and is competing well with Dell.”

Although Gartner rates IBM’s outlook as positive, it urged caution on the level of applications and support for its iSeries and zSeries systems. Overall, Burton sees passive IT as a path to enabling “extreme IT” so long it is approached carefully.

“Be conscious about the decisions you are making,” she said.

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