The turf war of unified computing

The New York Times article about Cisco getting into the server market is a very interesting read, as is Cisco’s own blog post announcing something they call “Unified Computing“.

My colleague Tom Bittman has a thoughtful blog post on the topic, writing: What is apparent is that the comfortable sandboxes in which different IT vendors sat are shattering. Those words demand that computing become a much more flexible, unified fabric.

Tom ruminates on the vendors, but setting aside any opinion of Cisco’s approach (or any other vendor making a unified computing attempt), my mind goes to the people — specifically, the way that a unified approach impacts IT operations personnel, and the way that these engineers can help or hinder adoption of unified data center technologies.

Unified computing — unified management of compute, storage, and network elements — is not just going to shape up to be a clash between vendors. It’s going to become a turf war between systems administrators and network engineers. Today, computing and storage are classically the domain of the former, and the WAN the domain of the latter. The LAN might go either way, but the bigger the organization, the more likely it goes to the network guys. And devices like application delivery controllers fall into an uncomfortable in-between, but in most organizations, one group or the other takes them into their domain. The dispute over devices like that serves as the warning shot in this war, I think. (An ADC is a network element, but it is often closely associated with servers; it is usually an appliance, i.e. a purpose-built server, but its administration more closely resembles a network device than a server.) The more a given technology crosses turf lines, the greater the dispute over who manages it, whose budget it comes out of, etc.

all your cloud are belong to us]
(Yes, I really did make a lolcat just for this post.)

He who controls the entire enchilada — the management platform — is king of the data center. There will be personnel who are empire-builders, seeking to use platform control to assert dominance over more turf. And there will be personnel who try to push away everything that is not already their turf, trying to avoid more work piling up on their plate.

Unification is probably inevitable. We’ve seen this human drama play out once this past decade already — the WAN guys generally triumphed over the telephony guys in the VoIP convergence. But my personal opinion is that it’s the systems guys, not the network guys, who will be most likely to triumph in the unified-platform wars. In most organizations, systems guys significantly outnumber the network guys, and they tend to have a lot more clout, especially as you go up the management chain. Internal politics and whose vendor influence triumphs may turn out to influence solution selection as much as, or more than, the actual objective quality of the solutions themselves.

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Posted on January 22, 2009, in Infrastructure and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Excellent insight Lydia. I never thought of cloud/unified computing from a “turf” perspective. This organizational stress could be even more disruptive as the global economy is strained.

    I wonder if virtualization will have its own impact on the IT organization? Will breaking up computing into smaller chunks also break up IT teams?


  2. I think virtualization is having the opposite impact — it’s pushing centralization rather than federation.

    I do think that cloud computing results in a <A HREF="different skillset for IT operations people, over the long term, though.


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