Uncommon Wisdom

May 16 2011   2:30PM GMT

Battle for the data center — where are the vendors?

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

The big takeaway from Interop so far has been the battle for the data center, which is no surprise given that particular item has been on top of my surveys for both enterprises and service providers for 18 months or more.

Interestingly, the financial analysts aren’t seeing anyone decisively winning that battle—at least, not right away. I agree, but the reason why is more important than the factoid itself. You can’t fix an outcome; what is, is. But in theory, at least, you could mitigate a cause.

Data center networks are migrating because data centers are migrating, and the drivers of the IT side of the migration are obviously most likely to be giant server and/or software companies. If you want a buyer to approve an eye-popping cost, and if you want to keep most of the money that’s changing hands, you’ll tend to exalt the benefits of your own gear or software and underplay the other component requirements—the ones you can’t fill on your own. Why is IBM doing OEM deals for network gear and not making the stuff itself?  Because it wants to lance any objection boils at the network level, but focus on the IT side.

In the service provider space—both network operators and over-the-top (OTT) giants—we’re seeing a drive to create a cloud without much vendor support from either the IT or the network giants. This is in sharp contrast to past practices in the industry, where vendors presented a Fuller-Brush-Man-like inventory of stuff that represented the operators’ only choices, and thus drove network evolution. The buyer is out of control, both today in the operator space and, eventually, everywhere that consumes data centers. That’s going to create a whole new tech industry.

Google is likely an example of all of this. At the developer conference, it introduced what might be (note the qualifier—”might”) the most revolutionary thing in Android since the first notion of an Android smartphone.

Android@home is an attempt to make Android king of the little-known but highly important “embedded control” market space.  A device that has computer technology support for its own functions but doesn’t provide a GUI through which the general power of computing can be exercised has historically been called an “embedded control device.” There are arcane EC-OSs, and there have been for years, and there have even been attempts to make a general-purpose OS like Windows or Linux into an EC-OS. None have had much success, because nobody has really promoted the notion.

Google aims to change that, creating an Android-inhabited universe in the home where a grid of intelligence manages the environment, fills our needs, etc. If you believe in a smart home, you believe in a pervasive EC-OS.  Google wants you to believe in Android as one.

There is no question whatsoever that Apple sees something similar, and is moving perhaps with less public fanfare toward that same goal. Google’s move may flush out Apple’s own intentions, which I believe include the linking of an iOS home network with an Apple-provided, cloud-hosted set of services. That’s surely Google’s direction. The two companies are envisioning “the cloud” in a more dramatic way, as a kind of “life fabric” that surrounds us through wireless connectivity and that hosts smart agent devices that each cooperate to play a role in how we work, play and live.

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