Who can deliver on-demand IT?

As the interest in on-demand computing continues to rise, this is a good time to take an early look at who will be the suppliers and which of them will likely win the hearts and minds of IT managers. Here is one way to look at it.

First, it is necessary to understand that while the benefits of on-demand stretch across almost all markets, we should continue to expect that different vendors would be supplying services to the different market segments. This is because mid-tier IT purchasers are likely to continue to be driven by a different set of buying characteristics than their colleagues who are running the larger enterprise shops. And unfortunately for the vendors, two historically validated rules seem to continue to apply.

Rule 1: Vendors with the capability to serve the very high end of the marketplace have real difficulty understanding the needs and buying habits of the mid-tier.

Rule 2: Vendors with technology and marketing skill sets that address mid tier markets typically lack the ability (and almost always lack the credibility) to serve the large enterprise segment.

One commonality between the two markets is that both large and midsize IT shops continue to be driven by a need to be cost-conscious while at the same time maintaining high levels of service. But that generalization aside, there are likely as many dissimilarities as there are parallels.

As I look at large enterprises I see an increasing need for them to simplify their business environments in order to improve efficiency. However, simplification of business processes likely means additional complexity for the IT processes that support the business. At the very least, any drive toward improved efficiency demands that attention be paid to the continuing convergence of systems, networks, and storage, and that these once-discrete segments of IT be viewed and managed as a single system. A complete on-demand environment that purports to offer an optimized environment for enterprise users must by definition accommodate the provisioning and other requirements of all three elements.

Who will be positioned to do this? Clearly a vendor that can manage heterogeneity will be the order of the day. Look for companies that are so open to partnering that they will offer an ability to manage all three of these elements - systems, networks and storage - and to manage them across the whole enterprise.

Who is likely to be able to provide a large part of the enterprise on-demand solution on their own? Keep in mind that this will require much, much more than a storage-only solution. Right now, based on current abilities and on their historical efforts at managing systems, networks and storage across the enterprise, there are two candidates: HP and IBM. Whether they will be able to develop effective strategies - and execute on those - will be interesting to watch.

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