Six industry-defining power struggles

An analysis of six battles for power taking shape in the network industry

When power players envision new market opportunities, they can become so eager for success that they fail to distinguish between true customer need and wishful thinking. Those that put fantasy above reality either don't survive, or don't deliver on their promises as advertised. Only one thing is certain -- for every move one player makes in a hot technology area, others will make countermoves.

At stake in these maneuvers is the way you build, manage and secure the enterprise network. Read on for an analysis of six battles for power taking shape in the network industry.

Security: Everyone wants in

Everyone wants to be a security vendor, and Cisco, IBM and Microsoft are no exception. It's no wonder: Even during years of anemic IT spending, security budgets get bigger-than-average boosts.

Sometimes new faces in the IT security world mean good things for enterprises. Microsoft's recent efforts to offer antivirus and antiphishing tools are pressuring the incumbent vendors, including McAfee and Symantec, to improve their wares.

"That's spurred the oligopoly to get back to innovating and spurred price competition," a security analyst at Gartner, John Pescatore, said.

But not all the big guns belong in the IT security business. Acquiring Internet Security Systems with itsintrusion detection and intrusion prevention appliances didn't mean IBM would fare well in the world of network security products, Pescatore said. "IBM is not a network company; it's a host, software and services company," he said.

Nor should EMC expect to simply buy its way into security prominence with its purchase of RSA Security . Vendors often rationalise such buyouts with the notion that enterprises are looking to spend their IT budgets on fewer providers. But enterprises aren't going to gamble on an unproven security provider just because the vendor is well regarded in other IT markets.

The bottom line is that enterprise security pros are smart shoppers. Just because Cisco, IBM and Microsoft are off the sidelines doesn't mean they get to control the game. The threats control the market, and smaller specialists with innovative security products will still turn IT buyers' heads. "The big guys are never the ones who react first with new answers to the new threats," Pescatore said.

Storage: Serendipity happens

After ignoring the market for years, data- storage vendors EMC, HP , IBM and Network Appliance are eyeing small and midsize businesses with new respect. NetAppliance even formed a division, called StoreVault, to pursue SMB customers.

Each has introduced appliances designed to combine ease-of-use with advanced storage features. In September 2006, for example, HP unveiled its StorageWorks All-in-One (AiO) storage systems, which bundle network-attached storage, storage-area network (SAN) and data-protection features with wizard-driven provisioning and management tools.

St. John's Episcopal School is an early user of HP's AiO storage devices. "What we were looking for was a quick way not only to expand the storage of our [Microsoft] Exchange environment, and expand the storage of our normal day-to-day file sharing, but also a way to augment some of my tapes to back up to disk," IT director at the school, Charles Love, said. "St. John's was in the market for some type of SAN, but the cost was always too high."

The AiO's starting price of $US5000, with room to grow, was a great fit, Love said.

So why the sudden attention? While SMB deal sizes are smaller, the target population far outnumbers the large enterprises on which vendors have traditionally set their sales sights. Plus, SMBs are hungry for better options: The market for entry-level storage systems priced at less than $US15,000 is the fastest-growing segment in storage, according to IDC.

While the opportunity is ripe, serving the SMB market will be a challenge for the big vendors. It likely will require building up a new crop of channel partners, because their existing resellers may not provide a pipeline to small businesses. Meanwhile, the storage requirements of smaller companies will continue to get more stringent. That's good news for SMBs, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Paul Myerson, said: "They're going to get what they want, because the vendors are going to have to compete."

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