Seven Things the CIO should consider when adopting a holistic cloud strategy

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 8/25/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/08/seven-things-the-cio-should-consider-when-adopting-a-holistic-cloud-strategy/

 

As conversations about cloud computing continues to focus on IT’s inability at holistic adoption, organizations outside of IT continue their cloud adoption trek outside the prevue of IT. While many of these efforts are considered Shadow IT efforts and frowned upon by the IT organization, they are simply a response to a wider problem.

The IT organization needs to adopt a holistic cloud strategy. However, are CIOs really ready for this approach? Michael Keithley, Creative Artists Agency’s CIO just returned from CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Symposium which brings together the industry’s best IT leaders. In his blog post, he notes that “(he) was shocked to find that even among this elite group of CIOs there were still a significant amount of CIOs who where resisting cloud.” While that perspective is widely shared, it does not represent all CIOs. There are still a good number of CIOs that have moved to a holistic cloud strategy. The problem is that most organizations are still in a much earlier state of adoption.

In order to develop a holistic cloud strategy, it is important to follow a well-defined process. The four steps are straightforward and fit just about any organization:

  1. Assess: Provide a holistic assessment of the entire IT organization, applications and services that is business focused, not technology focused. For the CIO, they are a business leader that happens to have responsibility for technology. Understand what is differentiating and what is not.
  2. Roadmap: Use the options and recommendations from the assessment to provide a roadmap. The roadmap outlines priority and valuations that ultimately drive the alignment of IT.
  3. Execute: This is where the rubber hits the road. IT organizations will learn more about themselves through action. For many, it is important to start small (read: lower risk) and ramp up quickly.
  4. Re-Assess & Adjust: As the IT organization starts down the path of execution, lessons are learned and adjustments needed. Those adjustments will span technology, organization, process and governance. Continual improvement is a key hallmark to staying in tune with the changing demands.

For many, following this process alone is not enough to develop a holistic cloud strategy. In order to successfully leverage a cloud-based solution, several things need to change that may contradict current norms. Today, cloud is leveraged in many ways from Software as a Service (SaaS) to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). However, it is most often a very fractured and disjointed approach to leveraging cloud. Yet, the very applications and services in play require that organizations consider a holistic approach in order to work most effectively.

When considering a holistic cloud strategy, there are a number of things the CIO needs to consider including these six:

  1. Challenge the Status Quo: This is one of the hardest changes as the culture within IT developed over decades. One example is changing the mindset that ‘critical systems may not reside outside your own data center’ is not trivial. On the other hand, leading CIOs are already “getting out of the data center business.” Do not get trapped by the cultural norms and the status quo.
  2. Differentiation: Consider which applications and services are true differentiators for your company. Focus on the applications and services that provide strategic value and shift more common functions (ie: email) to alternative solutions like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps.
  3. Align with Business Strategy: Determine how IT can best enable and catapult the company’s business strategy. If IT is interested in making a technology shift, consider if it will bring direct positive value to the business strategy. If it does not, one should ask a number of additional questions determining the true value of the change. With so much demand on IT, focus should be on those changes that bring the highest value and align with the business strategy.
  4. Internal Changes: Moving to cloud changes how organizations, processes and governance models behave. A simple example is how business continuity and disaster recovery processes will need to change in order to accommodate the introduction of cloud-based services. For organizations, cloud presents both an excitement of something new and a fear from loss of control and possible job loss. CIOs need to ensure that this area is well thought out before proceeding.
  5. Vendor Management: Managing a cloud provider is not like every other existing vendor relationship. Vendor management comes into sharp focus with the cloud provider that spans far more than just the terms of the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
  6. Exit Strategy: Think about the end before getting started. Exiting a cloud service can happen for good or bad reasons. Understand what the exit terms are and in what for your data will exist. Exporting a flat file could present a challenge if the data is in a structured database. However, that may be the extent of the provider’s responsibility. When considering alternative providers, recognize that shifting workloads across providers is not necessarily as trivial as it might sound. It is important to think this through before engaging.
  7. Innovation: Actively seek out ways to adopt new solutions and methodologies. For example, understand the value from Devops, OpenStack, Containers and Converged Infrastructure. Each of these may challenge traditional thinking, which is ok.

Those are seven of the top issues that often come up in the process of setting a holistic cloud strategy. Cloud offers the CIO, the IT organization and the company as a whole one of the greatest opportunities today. Cloud is significant, but only the tip of the iceberg. For the CIO and their organization, there are many more opportunities beyond cloud today that are already in the works.

Cloud is now a boardroom discussion and more are requesting CIO adoption

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 8/18/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/08/cloud-is-now-a-boardroom-discussion-and-more-are-requesting-cio-adoption/

Cloud computing and the board of directors may seem like an odd match. However, it is not the first time that executives and technology have met up. It may come as a surprise, but those magazines in the airplane seat back pocket are influential for technology. An airline publishes their magazine in which features about the latest innovation have influenced the direction of technology for years. The inflection point of a technology going mainstream often happens when it becomes the magazine cover story. An executive reads the article and asks when their company can leverage said technology.

Cloud goes mainstream

Using this methodology, cloud computing’s inflection point to mainstream took place in May 2009 when Continental Airlines (now merged with United Airlines) published a cover story on Russ Daniels, then HP’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Cloud Services Strategy. Surprisingly, cloud was still very much in its infancy in May 2009. Corporate IT organizations were neither broadly discussing cloud nor planning wide-scale adoption. That was five years ago.

Fast-forward five years later to August 2014. Over the past several months an interesting trend in cloud is starting to emerge. While cloud continues to be a discussion point among executives, the board of directors is now raising the topic of cloud.

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is already under pressure to adopt cloud among an increasingly complex IT portfolio. And now the board of directors is asking their CIO about cloud adoption. Ironically, the overall adoption of cloud continues at a rather sluggish pace.

Is the boardroom the right place to discuss a company’s wholesale cloud adoption? Probably not. Cloud does present the single largest lever for the CIO to help catapult the company forward. Which specific tools are used and how they are applied does affect business strategy. However, at the end of the day, cloud is still just a technology. Technology is a tool, not a strategy. Nor does simply employing cloud result in a magical business windfall. Connecting the dots between cloud and business is a bit more complex.

Upping the ante

The board of directors asking about cloud should not be a surprise. Cloud is a technology, but is widely used across both consumer and corporate worlds. Cloud also spans industries and geographies. In many ways, cloud represents a wide range of solutions to a quickly changing landscape. Conceptually, cloud is a broad solution to a number of problems. So, why should the board of directors not be interested in it? The problem is not that it comes up in a board meeting. The problem is in who brings it up: The CIO or a board member?

In a related vein, shadow IT is seen as a response to a discrepancy between needs and solutions. This is very similar to the questions being asked by board members today. The pace of business is increasing and companies are looking for ways to break free of the constraints. To some, traditional IT is viewed as a constraint that must change.

As IT pressure increases, so does visibility up the leadership chain to the board of directors. Customers are already making purchase decisions based on the technology of one company versus another. Companies and their respective IT organization must adapt to this changing customer behavior through the use of Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC).

Seeking relief from the pressure

Change is hard. The world of IT is not getting simpler; it is getting far more complex. IT organizations see this first hand every day and are seeking relief from the building pressure. However, traditional approaches are simply not enough to keep up.

Relief needs to come from non-traditional means. In many ways, cloud presents a non-traditional approach to the norm. It is important not to underestimate the amount of momentum behind traditional IT approaches. Looking back at the anthropology of IT, one quickly understands why.

The challenge for today’s CIO comes down to a few key items:

  • Understand the Business: First and foremost, understand how the company makes money. It may sound simple, but understand the different value chains, opportunities and challenges. Look for opportunities to improve and/ or grow.
  • Executive Engagement: As CIO, engage peer executives and board members at a business level. Up-level the conversation from that of technology to business.
  • Balancing Innovation vs. Legacy: Strike a balance between quick adoption of new methodologies and management of existing legacy solutions. Specific to cloud, establish a holistic cloud strategy while maintaining a solid operational footing with legacy systems.
  • Challenge the Norm: Traditional IT approaches are not enough to turn the corner. Look for new, innovative ways that change the path of inertia.
  • Organizational Shift: Establish a vision that engages staff in the changes.

In specific terms for the CIO role, it could be more dramatic and mean the difference between relevance and extinction.

The number of 9’s don’t matter but business metrics do

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 8/11/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/08/the-number-of-9s-dont-matter-but-business-metrics-do/

Information Technology (IT) organizations across the globe use a number of metrics to measure their success, failure and standing. One of the more popular metrics is the ‘number of 9’s’ as a measure of system uptime. Why use 9’s? It is relatively easy for technology organizations to measure system performance. Unfortunately, it does not matter outside of IT.

What are 9s?

The number of 9’s refers to the percentage of system uptime. Typically, we hear about three 9’s, four 9’s or five 9’s. Three 9’s refers to 99.9% uptime, or .1% downtime whereas five 9’s refers to an ever-illusive 99.999% uptime or a mere .001% downtime.

These metrics have been used for a very long time; from internal IT organizations reporting status to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) from service providers. The number of 9’s is used as a metric to set performance targets…and measure progress toward them. The problem is, they are technology focused. When looking at the inverse as a function of downtime, it equates to the following table:

Downtime TableEven at four-9’s, that equates to a maximum of only 52.56 minutes of downtime per year. Unfortunately, this means very little if the company is in retail and those 52 minutes of downtime came during Black Friday or Cyber Monday. In addition, the number may be artificially low as other factors may not be included in the calculation.

The Fallacy of Planned vs. Unplanned Downtime

First, it is important to differentiate between scheduled downtime and unplanned downtime (outages). Most measure their system performance based on the amount of unplanned downtime and exclude any scheduled downtime from the calculations. There has been an ongoing debate for years whether to include scheduled downtime.

Arguably, if a system is down (planned or unplanned), it is still down and unavailable. In today’s world of 24×7, 100% uptime expectations, planned downtime must be considered. Ironically, the inclusion of planned downtime causes uptime figures to drop and may cause a rethinking of how applications and services are architected.

Technology Metrics

In today’s world, do these metrics even make sense anymore? They are not business metrics…unless you are a service provider that makes your business about uptime. For the majority of IT organizations, these metrics are just ‘technology’ metrics that have little to no relevance to the business at hand. Just ask a line of business owner what five-9’s means to their line of business. For IT, it is hard to connect the dots between percentage uptime and true business impact. And by business impact, this refers to business impact measured in dollars.

Business Metrics

If not 9’s, what business metrics should IT be focused on? Most companies use a common set of metrics to gauge business progress. Those may include Cost to Acquire a Customer (CAC), Lifetime Value of Customer (LVC) and Gross Margin. Customer engagement is a key area of focus that includes customer acquisition, retention & churn. For IT, these metrics may seem very foreign. However, to a company, they are very real. Increasingly so, IT must connect the dots between that new technology and the value it brings to business metrics. As IT evolves to a business focused organization, so should their metrics of success.

The Role of the CIO

The CIO, above all others, is best positioned to take the lead in this transformation. Instead of looking for ways to express technological impact, look for ways to express business impact. It may seem like a subtle change in nomenclature, but the impact is huge. Business metrics provide a single view that all parts of a company can directly work toward improving.

A good starting point is to understand how the company makes money. Start with reading the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. Are there any hotspots that IT can contribute to? And what (business) metrics should IT use to measure their progress.

Not only will this shift IT thinking to be business focused, it will also highlight better alignment with other business leaders across the company.

Death of the Data Center

Back in 2011, Mark Thiele (@mthiele10), Jan Wiersma (@jmwiersma) and I shared the stage at a conference in London, England for a panel discussion on the future of data centers. The three of us are founding board members with Data Center Pulse; an industry association of data center owners and operators with over 6,000 members that span the globe.

Our common theme for the panel: Death of the Data Center. Our message was clear and poignant. After decades of data center growth, a significant change was both needed and on the horizon. And this change was about to turn the entire industry in its head. The days of building and operating data centers of all shapes, sizes and types throughout the world was about to end. The way data centers are consumed has changed.

Fast forward the clock to 2014, a different conference (ECF/ DCE) and a different city (Monte Carlo, Monaco). The three of us shared the stage once again to touch on a variety of subjects ranging from SMAC to DCIM to the future of data centers. During my opening keynote presentation on the first day, I referred back to our statement from three years earlier professing “Death of the Data Center.”

Of course, making this statement at a Cloud and Data Center conference might have bordered on heresy. But the point still needed to be made. And it was more important today than ever. The tectonic shift we discussed three years in London was already starting to play out. Yet, the industry as a whole was still trying to ignore the fact that evolution was taking over. And by industry I’m referring to both internal IT organizations along with data center and service providers. How we look at data centers was changing and neither side was ready to admit change was afoot.

The Tectonic Data Center Evolution

During the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, a shift in IT spending took place. At the same time, cloud computing was truly making its own entrance. Companies of all sizes (and their IT organizations) were pulling back their spending and rethinking what ‘strategic spending’ really meant. Coming into focus was the significant costs associated with owning and operating data centers. The common question: Do we still really needed our own data center?

This is a tough question to consider for those that always believed that data, applications, and systems needed to be in their own data center in order to be 1) manageable and 2) secure. Neither of those hold true today. In fact, by many accounts, the typical enterprise data center is less secure than the alternatives (colocation or cloud).

The reality is: This shift has already started, but we are still in the early days. Colocation is not new, but the options and maturity of the alternatives is getting more and more impressive. The cloud solutions that are part of a data center’s ecosystem are equally impressive.

Data Center Demand

Today, there is plenty of data center capacity. However, there is not much new capacity being built by data center providers due to the fear of over capacity and idle resources. The problem is, when the demand from enterprises starts to ramp up. It takes years to bring a new data center facility online. We know the demand is coming, but when. And when it does, it will create a constraint on data center capacity until new capacity is built. I wrote about this in my post Time to get on the Colocation Train Before it is Too Late.

Are Data Centers Dying?

In a word, are data centers going away? No. However, if you are an enterprise running your own data center, expect a significant shift. At a minimum, the size of your existing data center is shrinking if not completely going away. And if you are in an industry with regulatory or compliance requirements, the changes still apply. I have worked with companies some of the most regulated and sensitive industries including Healthcare, Financial Services and Government Intelligence Communities. All of which are considering some form of colocation and cloud today.

Our point was not to outline a general demise of data centers, but to communicate an impending shift in how data centers are consumed. To some, there was indeed a demise of data centers coming. However, to others, it would generate significant opportunity. The question where are you in this equation and are you prepared for the impending shift?

Where Does Rackspace Go From Here?

In the past week, the conversation around cloud computing has pulled the spotlight toward Rackspace (NYSE: RAX). Today alone, the stock is trading up 20%. So, why all attention in an otherwise mixed field of great innovators and steady stalwarts? A story in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Rackspace has hired Morgan Stanley to help evaluate options.

That story alone has generated a considerable amount of fodder on the blogosphere and Twitter streams. In addition, there was considerable chatter at this week’s OpenStack Summit in Atlanta.

Internal Competition

Rackspace’s historical ‘bread and butter’ comes from managed hosting and their legendary fanatical support. Then comes along cloud computing, Rackspace’s cloud offerings and a few acquisitions. The problem is that their traditional hosting services and cloud offerings could easily compete with each other. While some will quickly deny this point, the reality is that enterprises moving up the value chain will inevitably move from traditional managed hosting services to cloud offerings. The challenge is that the revenue and cost model for each is very different. In essence, the shift from managed services to cloud offerings will create a drop in revenue without further augmentation in either new customers or additional services.

The OpenStack Factor

Rackspace was an early, and significant, contributor to OpenStack. OpenStack is open source software that presents a strong contender for companies looking to build private and public clouds. In the past 6-12 months alone, OpenStack has received significant support from across the technology industry.

As an early supporter and major contributor to OpenStack, Rackspace got tagged as playing a heavy-handed role in controlling OpenStack’s development. Right or wrong, at the time there was a dearth of corporate leadership at the level Rackspace was playing. So, Rackspace pulled back and others quickly filled in. The question being posed is: Did Rackspace potentially pull back too far?

Today, the picture is quite a bit different. There are a number of major technology companies that have embraced OpenStack and are significant contributors. The question at the OpenStack Summit was whether OpenStack could benefit from a corporate leader helping drive the movement. If so, that could bring things full circle. The question is, with Rackspace’s deep bench of experience and involvement in OpenStack, could they be that leader?

Potential Suitors

Many have noted the potential suitors if Rackspace is contemplating sale. Brandon Butler of Network World mentioned some of the notables in his Cloud Chronicles post. Among those is a familiar cast of characters from technology’s elite.

So, what does all this really mean? Bottom Line: It’s anyone’s guess. But I have a theory.

The Private Advantage

I suspect one option may be to take the company private in order to provide some breathing room to retool. The shareholders of publicly traded companies are a fickle bunch. They’re looking for improvements in revenue and shareholder equity every single quarter. Miss a quarter and watch the stock price drop precipitously.

Sure, a company could make the necessary changes while flying as a publicly traded company. But that would require incremental change to minimize the impact to revenue. As such, it would be a slow and tedious dance in an otherwise dynamic and quickly changing industry. Not exactly a match made in heaven.

Going private would provide Rackspace some breathing room during a dip in revenue while the company retools to take advantage of the assets they have. During that time, they could realign their hosting and cloud businesses to take full advantage of their existing customer base while leading them through their maturing from traditional services to cloud.

Bottom Line

Time is not a kind mistress and I suspect Rackspace sees both the opportunity and the writing on the wall. However, the changes must come quickly as time is a constant and not redeemable.

HP Launches Helion to Address Enterprise Cloud Adoption

Today, HP takes a huge step forward to address the broad and evolving enterprise cloud demand through their HP Helion announcement. HP Helion presents HP’s strategy to provide a comprehensive cloud portfolio. As HP’s CEO Meg Whitman mentioned, “HP is in it to win.” HP is investing over $1b in their cloud-based solutions. It’s clear that HP is working hard to win the new enterprise game.

Traditional IT demand is not going away, but the demand for cloud is increasing. Most enterprises struggle to leverage traditional IT while adopting Transformational IT. Providers, such as HP, need to address this complex and hybrid approach. With Helion, HP ups the ante in addressing this demand.

Today, HP launches their Helion brand encompassing their entire cloud portfolio. The formerly know HP Cloud solution is now part of the Helion branding. But the key change isn’t the branding change. It’s the end-to-end products that address an enterprise’s needs regardless of their state of cloud adoption.

Open Source Software Part of HP’s Strategy

HP’s commitment to OpenStack is not new. They have two board members as part of the OpenStack Foundation. And their further commitment to embrace OpenStack as part of their core cloud offerings furthers both HP and the OpenStack movement as a whole. OpenStack is a key opportunity for enterprises and service providers alike. However, open source software, and specifically OpenStack has presented significant challenges for enterprise adoption.

One of the first solutions from HP is their OpenStack Community Edition (OCE). OCE is intended for entry-level use up to 30 nodes. OCE is an approachable way for enterprises interested in OpenStack to get started. For enterprises interested in going beyond 30 nodes, HP’s commercial solution bridges the gap.

OCE is not only open source, but supported by HP. It’s also one of the first distributions based on the OpenStack Icehouse release. HP intends to ship updates every six weeks, which will keep the distribution fresh. HP OCE is available today as a free download.

Also announced today was HP’s commitment to Cloud Foundry. Cloud Foundry presents an additional opportunity for enterprises to embrace cloud through PaaS. For many enterprises, PaaS presents the solution between a core infrastructure solution and SaaS solutions. Plus, PaaS provides portability for applications based on a specific platform.

In Summary

HP Helion presents one of the most comprehensive end-to-end solutions for enterprises today. OpenStack is very interesting for enterprises, but difficult to consume. Helion lowers the bar and gives enterprises options they’ve been clamoring for.

What Happens if Twitter Went Away?

Ok, that sounds like doom and gloom…but is Twitter too big to fail? Today marks six months since Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) went public. Twitter priced their IPO at $26 per share. On the first day of trading, their stock reached a high of $50.09 and ultimately closed the day at $44.90.

In addition, the lockup ends today for Twitter’s early shareholders or roughly 81% of Twitter’s stock. As such, the stock cratered almost 18% to $31.85.

Twitter Stock Price

At the same time, user growth and EPS are both decelerating. For the naysayer, this paints a picture of impending doom. Whether you believe that is the case or not, the question still exists.

Twitter User Numbers

What would happen if Twitter went away? What would happen to the users and demand? Would it shift to other Social Media sites like Google Plus or Facebook? And would it put a chilling effect on social media as a whole?

Many believe that there is value in social media. Could it be as simple as finding a balance between free and paid services? What are you thoughts?

 

Note: Originally published to Medium: https://medium.com/p/21aa6f8f7323

First Impressions of EMC World

EMC World, EMC’s core annual conference is this week in Las Vegas and there are a number of very core things to watch out for. EMC’s presence in the enterprise space is legendary. However the enterprise space is gaining momentum in the enterprise IT evolution. The question is: Is EMC in a position to support these changes and continue to provide the leadership they’re known for. Bottom line: Companies are moving to the cloud. On the surface, this could present disaster for EMC. Key will be EMC’s ability to shift and help customers embrace the cloud.

Importance of Storage

Storage has grown up. No longer are the days where storage is just a place to store data and files. Storage is now key to the success of any given application. EMC clearly understands this and needs to evolve to this change. This is new! But it provides a radical shift in opportunity for companies like EMC. Look for EMC to make the connection between applications and storage.

Partnerships & Ecosystem Development

EMC provides leadership to enables IT to provide greater business value. The key is to evolve quickly and provide solutions that are needed both today and moving forward.

One could argue that no one company can (or should) be everything to everyone. Even very large enterprise providers such as EMC, need to embrace this shift. One example of EMC’s recent shift is their partnership with SAP. Frankly, this is a great sign of maturity on the part of EMC. Similarly, HP recently started providing their ‘Shark’ solutions for SAP’s HANA. Look for EMC to embrace this relationship and look to other key relationships between EMC and key enterprise players.

Open Source Software Integration

It is clear that open source software (like OpenStack) is changing the way enterprise solutions are built and consumed within a completely new economic model. The more mature enterprise-class providers will acknowledge this shift and embrace it. Look for EMC to provide greater integration with open source solutions.

Enterprise to Service Provider Shifts

Historically, enterprise-class providers create solutions specifically for enterprises…not service providers. Service provider requirements are quite different from that of their enterprise counterparts. At the same time, the shift in demand from enterprise to service provider happens over time, not all at once. Look for EMC to acknowledge this shift in terms of integration between solutions and changes in their management tools. The impact of general-purpose storage solutions also changes the paradigm for EMC. EMC needs to demonstrate value beyond the underlying physical hardware.

The VMware and Pivotal Impact

A constant question for EMC is how VMware and Pivotal play a role in EMC’s future. Both companies provide solutions that support the evolving changes within the enterprise. But potentially create a loggerhead for openness. Can EMC embrace the changes and innovation from both VMware and Pivotal, but still maintain flexibility in their open approach to alternative solutions? Look for indications of this through their partnerships and reference architectures.

Timing is Everything

EMC provides core storage solutions for key enterprise applications. In many ways, these are the very applications that are both sensitive to enterprises and harder to move. In both cases, this translates to risk. Enterprise customers have been hesitant to make the shift from traditional storage solutions to alternative approaches. That attitude is changing. Change is no longer an option it is a requirement. How is EMC taking a leadership role to help existing enterprise customers make this shift? Look for EMC to provide examples of flexibility beyond the traditional enterprise constraints.

In Summary

This year, more than any in the past, is a watershed year for EMC. This year, the stars are aligning where customers are open for change, looking for help and ready to get started. The traditional enterprise sacred cows are up for grab. Now is the time for EMC to demonstrate how they can make this shift and continue to provide leadership to the enterprise customer.

Initial Impressions from IBM Impact

This week is IBM’s Impact Conference in Las Vegas. In past years, IBM conveyed components of different strategies around Mobile and Cloud. However, they have since moved to an integrated approach. This integrated approach is great, but offers a few challenges for an incumbent such as IBM. Here are some things to watch for this week:

Hardware is King

Many of the conversations at Impact have mentioned IBM’s heritage and leadership in the hardware space. This year, IBM celebrates 50 years of the mainframe. And there is plenty of innovative work IBM is doing in the hardware space.

The question is not about IBM’s leadership in hardware. It is more around their longer-term vision. IBM is a company challenged with keeping existing customers engaged (many of which are hardware customers), while engaging an even strong software and services story. The days of the general purpose processor that supports a myriad of applications is less important than specific infrastructure geared toward highly specialized workloads that run at scale.

The Shift in Enterprise Demand

Enterprises are still buying hardware today. But the demand for hardware is shifting from enterprises to service providers. As such, providers like IBM must evolve their software, management and tools to support the change in customers. This impacts the usability for enterprises and service providers alike. And vendors like IBM need to both acknowledge these shifts…and have an answer to the demand.

The Converged Story

Many want to talk about mobile and cloud in specific silos. IBM has been no different in the past. However, at Impact this week, IBM is talking the converged story around both mobile and cloud. This is a key shift in thinking that mirrors the holistic thinking any enterprise should take.

The SoftLayer Parlay

IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer presented a brilliant opportunity to build a platform for the future. IBM needs to continue innovating and leveraging the SoftLayer platform in a myriad of ways that accommodates the varied requirements of customers (both current and potential).

OpenPOWER Foundation

This week, IBM is promoting their OpenPOWER Foundation pretty heavily. While this is a great move in the right direction, the branding might be off-putting for potential new customers looking for an ecosystem that is less tied to IBM’s hardware heritage. Look for further distinctions to be made in this space as IBM evolves.

Hybrid & Holistic

Finally, moving away from a silo approach, look for IBM to take a holistic approach to embracing both hybrid cloud and mobile strategies. Again, this mirrors where enterprises today need to go. Not necessarily where they are today. But that provides opportunity for IBM to take a leadership position in the industry.

The Cloud Storage Wars Heat Up

While the cloud storage wars have simmered between Box and Dropbox for sometime, someone just poured gas on the fire. And that someone is Microsoft. With today’s announcement, Microsoft has just put Box and Dropbox in their crosshairs.

The competition becomes particularly interesting as Box and Dropbox are both planning a public offering. At the same time, potential investors are questioning the sustainability of a standalone cloud storage business.

Today’s announcement increases Microsoft’s cloud storage offering (OneDrive) from 25GB per user to 1TB per user. This brings it on par with the business offerings of Box and Dropbox. At 25GB per user, the amount of storage available was interesting, but could lead to challenges for the largest consumers of storage in an average enterprise.

Comparison of Cloud Storage for Business

Company Storage Price
Microsoft 1TB $5/user/month*
Box 1TB $15/user/month
Dropbox Unlimited $15/user/month

* Microsoft OneDrive for Business is also included in Office 365 plans as low as $5-8/user/month

Data as of 4/29/2014

 

The Enterprise Effect

As more business customers move to cloud-based services, email becomes an early target. Exchange and Windows are still the standard for most companies today. This installed base has a huge effect on the potential outcome. Switching to alternative platforms can present a challenge on top of all other challenges an IT organization faces.

The Holistic Approach

While Microsoft’s solution is fairly closed and Microsoft-centric, this is not much different from what enterprises have faced for some time. In some ways, if an enterprise could ‘forklift’ their entire operation to a holistic solution for fundamental services (ie: Email, Storage, etc), that could present an attractive solution.

But that’s not the entire story. Companies today are looking to break the reigns of constrictive, closed ecosystems. That’s where Box and Dropbox excel beyond that of Microsoft. In any case, both Box and Dropbox will need to respond appropriately. The real opportunity for these companies is well beyond that of file storage.

For customers, the question of which solution to use comes down to your individual situation and which approach makes more sense both short-term and long-term.

Further Reading:

Microsoft Targets Box, Dropbox

http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/04/28/microsoft-targets-box-dropbox/

Microsoft Blog: Thinking outside the box

http://blogs.office.com/2014/04/28/thinking-outside-the-box/

Box Blog: An Open Microsoft

http://blog.box.com/2014/04/an-open-microsoft/