Friday, August 20, 2010

Still like all that's big?

Living in America, it’s hard to miss all the “excitement” that the coming mid-term elections are generating, even this early in the process. While some of it can be amusing, its nothing more than same-o, same-o, with little to separate the merits of either candidate’s platform, and for the most part they are succeeding only in turning-off the majority of their constituency. It’s big politics, however, and with the current economic downturn showing every sign of further stumbling even though the economy looked to be spluttering back to life, it is hard to escape the constant barrage of messages that pour into our television sets.

I am left standing on the sidelines through all of this. Through a quirk in the way immigrants are treated, as a “green card” holder I am not allowed to vote in the US for the past twenty years, and as a non-resident of Australia I haven’t been able to vote in Australia either. On the world stage, I have no vote and cannot participate in the most basic of democratic principles available to us all, having essentially slipped through the fingers of big politics.

When it comes to technology it’s hard to escape big IT! In a recent email exchange with a former colleague I asked him whether he thought the industry was headed for a period of decomposition, but his quick response was a resounding no! Everyone today loves big IT vendors, it would appear, they have the wherewithal to pull technology offerings together and drive out the complexity along with the costs. What worries most CIOs is the ineffectiveness in tying everything together. Models based on the integration of best-of-breed have been put back on the shelf. Software, hardware, middleware – it’s all proving a bit much, and for the CIOs, it would be a huge benefit if they could just turn to one vendor that has the big-picture view comprehensively addressed, and have their trucks turn up and unload a tightly integrated, fully-working, all-singing, all-dancing, solution that meets all CIO’s business needs.

Even as the industry appears to be on the threshold of even further consolidation, where only four or five big vendors, including IBM, HP, Oracle/Sun, Cisco, and perhaps Microsoft, remain capable of delivering integrated solutions for the enterprise, I’m not quite prepared to rule out opportunities for growth among the remaining smaller vendors. They may not be candidates for acquisition in the short term, but even with the push to standardize on fewer integrated stacks, there will be plenty of opportunities to help navigate the complexities that will surely remain. After all, once a decision has been taken to, say, rely on the complete offering of Oracle / Sun, getting there is going to present considerable challenges.

Having written this, I can’t ignore the passionate declaration of Star Wars’ Princess Leia, held captive on the Empire’s Death Star under the command of Governor Tarkin as he prepares to destroy planets harboring renegades, “the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Through the melodrama this represents is the reality that there’s every chance the big vendors will miss opportunities to innovate simply because they lack the ability to mobilize in support of the little things! Let alone provide adequate services across the big solutions they offer.

In a back-page editorial in the August 9, 2010, issues of InformationWeek, writer Art Wittmann looks at whether Oracle will do a lot better in the marketplace now that it owns Sun. “IT pros will have to deal with the Oracle sales team and after-sales support. And this is where the problem lies. Most survey comments that relate to sales portray the Oracle team as arrogant and the Sun team as inept. But far worse, every single comment from Sun customers pertaining to service said that service on their Sun products had gotten demonstrably worse since the merger,” Wittman reports.

“There’s no doubt that IT organizations value having just one ‘throat to choke,’ but if you’re already doing some choking now and aren’t seeing satisfactory results, why would you risk a purchase as strategic as something like an Exadata (database appliance) machine? At least if you integrate the software and hardware yourself, you can try to play the two vendors against each other,” Wittmann wryly observes. And this is where I see the big picture losing some of its shine. All-singing, all-dancing, productions should be left to Broadway or Hollywood directors!

And for me, it will continue to come back to issues with databases and networks, for the most part. While my immediate past had been heavily focused on databases, it’s the network that poses the more interesting challenge, in my opinion. There’s no question that TCP/IP dominates all discussions these days – but X.25, SNA, SNA-APPN, and even BiSynch and Asynch, are all proving annoyingly difficult to shake off.

For the past couple of months I have been heavily involved with Infrasoft’s uLinga, as it works out the kinks in moving from SNA and SNA-APPN to TCP/IP across the data center, whether the applications residing on a system adjacent to NonStop are CICS or IMS. As I have been looking closer, I am more than a little surprised at just how much SNA remains. I am just as surprised at how much of a company’s ongoing dependence on SNA seems to involve complex network structures interfacing to business partners and customers that would have moved on from SNA a long time ago if it could have been done more easily.

In the coming months I will be talking to a number of parties looking at ways to simplify the transition, and the challenges they create for all involved. I will be working with a small number of boutique vendors specializing in this area. With all the posturing that’s going on among the big vendors, and despite their violent agreement on the key components that constitute standard stacks, there’s just some things best left to be pursued by gifted individuals from smaller companies.

Slipping through the fingers of big vendors, many small vendors are taking advantage of the opportunities these challenges provide, and it doesn’t bring with it any fears of annihilation at the hand of those carrying fearsome death-rays, but rather, are proving to be the great help for many corporations anxious to move on. There’s a couple of interesting Proof of Concepts (PoCs) about to get under way that I plan on watching and if all goes well, I will cover shortly, but for the moment, I’m going to sit back and watch another politician promise me a brighter future!

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