Web Informant #303, 31 October 2002:

Understanding core technologies




Life in the world of computing has changed, as we all know. The glory days are gone. Retrenchment, layoffs, cutbacks, and refocusing are all now the norm. And the vendors have reacted by upping the stakes and putting more emphasis on their core technologies, and trying to get their customers and partners to get closer to selling solutions based on these technologies.


If I had to make a list, it would go something like this: IBM and Tivoli network management software. Microsoft and SQL Server. Novell and eDirectory. HP and OpenView. Cisco and IOS. Symantec and Norton Anti-Virus. You could add plenty of others, and hopefully get where I am going here.


These core technologies are critical to the company's success. Each vendor is making it harder for partners and customers to do without these technologies if you are going to continue to do business with them.


Curiously, in discussions I have had with these vendors, this is never explicitly said. But the subtext is clear, at least to me. If you ignore these core technologies, go do business elsewhere.


It is a risky strategy, in these dark times. There isn't room in most IT shops to support multiple core technologies -- after all, how many network management platforms, database servers, et al. can you support? But vendors have to pick their partners more carefully these days. If you aren't central to their core business, you aren't going to get the best levels of support, the best discounts, the best mind-share and attention.


Take IBM, for example. Sam Palmisano is placing a big bet on the future of computing and his company. The head of IBM, in a presentation I saw yesterday here in New York, claims that he'll spend up to $10 billion over the next year in support of a new wave of computing he calls “on demand.” Think a combination of just-in-time inventories, flexible production lines, and the ability to react and reallocate resources all in Internet time. Sam calls it "touchless manufacturing," the ability to make stuff and ship it out without having to constantly touch the merchandize. It is ambitious, it is interesting, and it may just work.


What does this have to do with Tivoli software? Lots. In order to execute their strategy, IBM needs the capabilities that Tivoli provides to manage a distributed network. Sam's idea is to think fast, respond faster. Keep up with changing markets and suppliers. Have end-to-end integration in your supply and demand systems to react quickly, and understand when demand changes to be able to adjust supplies accordingly. This isn't all that new – biz schools have been teaching these concepts for years now.


But what is new is how IBM is going to pull this all off. At the heart of Sam's proposal is a set of four key technologies: open systems, higher levels of software integration, virtualizing everything, and autonomic computing. And Tivoli touches all four areas in critical ways, making it their core technology and making it essential that if you are going to get involved with IBM, you'll need to know about this stuff.


IBM has taken on the open systems rubrics with a vengeance.  They claim that Linux is the fastest growing server platform in their universe, and I would believe them. Their own business runs on over 1,000 Linux servers, just so you know they eat their own dog food. (There was a time when running any production application on some non-IBM operating system was considered heresy until relatively recently.) Tivoli software manages open systems networks with ease.


Virtualization is nothing new: IBM has had virtual machine operating systems longer than I can remember, and they have extended the concept to storage, processing, and other components as well. Sam harped on a familiar theme: all those idling desktops out there in corporate America, with CPU power to burn. If only someone could harness that power to do more than search for intergalactic life. Sam says, “Hotels can't operate on 95% vacancy rates, why should our computing environments?” I wish him luck. And Tivoli can also make virtualization easier, especially with some of the storage management software tools.


Autonomic computing is perhaps the most out-there of the four concepts: the ability to self-heal, to self-protect, to self-configure and diagnose. It is happening to some extent in a variety of competitor's products as well as within the IBM product line, and I think we'll see more of this as time goes on. It is a natural fit for IS departments of limited means, and IBM is spending half a billion bucks on R&D just in this space alone. I dare say Tivoli will be playing in this space as well.


IBM is no stranger to the Big Idea. Remember Systems Application Architecture? That so defined the 1990s: an overarching, proprietary, and bloated set of code with a shelf full of manuals, going nowhere fast. The company probably blew several billions chasing that dream. Of course, the whole issue here is whether or not IBM can pull off these grand plans, or if this is just the 2002 version of SAA. I can't tell you that answer yet. 


Understanding the core technologies is critical. You need to pick your vendor partners carefully. If their core technology don't match yours, you are setting yourself up for trouble down the road.


Self promotions dep't


Last weekend I and 250 other hardy souls were out in Death Valley and together we raised over a million dollars for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. While I wasn't able to do any bike riding because my shoulder is still recovering from an accident earlier this summer, I did manage to meet plenty of people who did ride, including some parent/child teams that rode over 50 miles on the total 105 mile course. We had terrible weather for riding: strong headwinds, intense rain, and colder-than-normal temperatures, but everyone was in good spirits and I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country involved in this wonderful cause. I wanted to thank those of you who supported my efforts this past year, and you'll be hearing from me next year when I plan to participate in those events.


I will be heading out west again in a few weeks' time for Comdex and moderating a panel on Monday afternoon Nov. 18th on wireless networks with several industry executives. Those of you that are also going and want to spend a quality 20 or 30 minutes together during the week please let me know.


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Entire contents copyright 2002 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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