Strategy: Unified Computing Stack Wars

Apr 26, 2011


Stack Wars: Who Will Own The Unified Computing Crown?

In a throwback to the mainframe era, vendors from across the technology spectrum are once again pushing integrated systems, bundling blade servers, edge switches and shared storage, along with the software to manage it all, into what are becoming known as “unified computing stacks.” These systems are the spawn of two major industry trends, one fueled by technology, the other by vendors looking to grow their businesses.

On the technology front, virtualization is sweeping over the IT landscape, moving beyond servers to networks and storage. But pervasive virtualization can achieve its full potential only when these areas are integrated, working as a single abstracted hardware layer that supports all application resource needs. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, and that’s why major IT equipment vendors are stepping outside their traditional market segments in hopes of becoming one-stop data center shops; it’s what some call verticalization—specifically, a vertically integrated source for all IT hardware, software and services. Server vendors have added strong network and storage offerings, software vendors have bought hardware companies, and everyone is treading on someone else’s turf looking to sell you unified computing stacks.

Befitting such uncharted IT territory, there’s plenty of dispute over the best architecture and technology choices and procurement models. While HP and IBM are pushing fully integrated, single-vendor offerings, party crashers Cisco and EMC are offering not only a multivendor approach, but also a unique architecture. Meanwhile, upstarts like Dell and its partner, network startup Xsigo, are preaching the religion of openness and standards. What’s an IT manager with visions of private cloud nirvana to do with such a hash? Look at it this way: When outfitting a home theater, do you prefer to buy a preoptimized system in a box, or piece together a custom setup by diving into the specs of every amp, speaker, Blu-Ray player and universal remote? Of course, for data center architects, the stakes are much higher, with seven-figure ramifications for large enterprises. But the basic premise is the same. In this report, we’ll map the technology terrain and help navigate the new unified computing landscape. (S2770510)

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