In the past few months, Cisco announced its UCS server platform, Oracle announced its intent to acquire Sun Microsystems, and IBM entered into an agreement to rebrand and sell Brocade Ethernet switches. Hmm, so a network company entered the server market, a software firm jumped into hardware, and a traditional systems company decided it needed to put its name on a networking component.
Why the land grab? Rather than dominate a single or multiple technology layers and rely on others for additional parts and systems integration, these industry behemoths want the whole enchilada including the virtualization layer, operating system, server hardware, networking, and storage--a single integrated technology stack tuned for dynamic infrastructure. Ironically, cloud computing will run on modern day VAX clusters with an integrated stack just like Digital offered back in the early 1990s. What's old is new again.
The integrated technology stack won't happen overnight, but it seems clear that the big dogs are headed in this direction. What does this mean for the rest of the industry and IT? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Infrastructure intelligence moves to virtual machines. In an integrated stack world, each physical server will contain hundreds of servers running on multiple network segments. This transition means that all of the physical appliances manipulating IP packets along their journey will have to run in software as virtual machines. This will help the environment but it changes the way software and IT infrastructure is developed, delivered, priced, and supported.
2. Management and operations takes on a complex physical-to-virtual flavor. Today's networks may be complex but configuration changes, upgrades, and new devices still require a person to plug wires into ports. When physical devices are replaced by virtual alternatives, all hell could break loose. Tight IT operations processes will help but invisible IT issues like IP address management, network design, and traffic management get a heck of a lot more complicated. My suspicion is that these problems rear their ugly heads before management tools catch up.
3. IT skills merge quickly. In the near future, IT personnel with integrated technology stack expertise will be worth their weight in gold while those clinging to horizontal system, networking, and storage skills will find fewer and fewer jobs available.
4. Applications have to learn to play. Applications tend to believe that they own all of the system resources, but this won't work when virtualization and dynamic capabilities are baked into the integrated stack. Application requirements, service level agreements (SLAs), and resource needs must be shared with the integrated technology stack so it can be responsive to the applications and ultimately the business.