Have you been noticing how unimportant hardware has become? Having the biggest. fastest, most reliable piece of equipment in the data center doesn’t cut it anymore. A few weeks back I was talking to Dave Hitz, one of the founders of NetApp and author of How to Castrate a Bull. He explained the phenomena really clearly, consumers need a particular level of something (quality, speed, capacity) and once the something massively exceeds their expectations that something becomes unimportant.
So looking at storage, quality and reliability are now so over-provisioned that they no longer form part of the purchasing decision. Every storage system massively exceeds the need for quality. Same applies to servers, in most cases servers have vastly more performance, reliability and quality than we need, most other IT hardware follows the pattern.
So what differentiates hardware, how can hardware vendors get traction with buyers and have them change vendor? Ask any hardware vendor and you will hear the same story – that is a really difficult thing to do. What really matters now in the IT industry if hardware has become irrelevant and unimportant?
Here is my take, it’s services, it’s configuring all of the business systems and applications that we layer on top of the hardware that counts. So this is the era of the systems integrator, the companies who can repeatably build customer solutions from the myriad of components we have on the market.
Neither the Enterprise nor the SME markets have the staff, skills or appetite to continue with Do It Yourself (DIY) solutions. CIOs are demanding simple, low cost integrations of their core platforms. I have long said that where there is no competitive advantage to be had from delivering an IT solution, IT departments need to be cheap and reliable and repeatable.
So what differentiates the systems integrators from each other, how does the local Apple dealer who can set up your VMware Fusion system differ from IBM, EDS or EMC’s services divisions? How can an end user make a sensible and long term decision about who to use and how to engage these integrators?
There are a number of sales messages you will hear:
- We have the smartest people – so use us
- We are independent and have proven templated solutions that we deliver repeatedly to customers
- We are the software / hardware vendor for most of the solution so we can offer a better supported answer
Personally I don’t think the first message plays well anymore. I would rather have a critical medical operation from a surgeon who does 3 similar operations before breakfast than the best qualified guy in the area. I think the same applies to IT systems, the time has passed for vendors learning on the job about how to deliver.
Templated, proven solutions plays very well to me, then I am not the poor guy at the sharp end with a configuration that is unique and unproven, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands with the same setup. There are some great independent vendors out there like ACS and Glasshouse, who repeatedly deliver great, well thought out solutions focused on meeting client needs.
Provided that the software or hardware vendors takes the same approach with proven configurations and repeatable delivery processes, this can be one of the strongest possible offerings. Vendors typically have great domain expertise with their products and are better able to offer a full end-to-end supportable solution. This is often not the cheapest solution but can reduce operational and delivery risk.
I had a briefing from EMC’s Frank Hauck (EVP Marketing and Customer Quality) and colleagues this week about EMCs professional services and proven solutions. EMC do a great job in the field with well designed branded proven solutions backed up with a culture of always standing behind what they do, even when it is painful and expensive.
Proven solutions, software and services are now the differentiation factor in the IT industry and it is becoming obvious to everyone. HP’s smart acquisition of EDS plays against IBM’s strength in Global Services. VMware’s purchase of SpringSource plays into Oracle and IBM’s strength in the Java space. EMC’s drive to deliver proven solutions forms part of the journey that every IT firm must make to being services led.