Network/systems management in 2006: Platform vendors acquire and reorganize

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Writing columns this time of year is both easy and hard. The obvious choice is to make some general comments about the year that has passed and the year ahead, which is what I’ll do. The challenge though is that capturing trends is like peeling an onion: one idea leads to the next, which invariably leads to questions, most of which remain unanswered until time can intervene and provide some further levels of clarity.

So rather than making any grand pronouncements, I’m going to look at actions by vendors and markets that caught my attention. I found these actions above and beyond routine interest and believe they have peeling-the-onion-like resonance across multiple contingencies and possibilities in the future.

Today we’ll deal with platform vendors, and my first newsletter in the New Year (we’re not publishing over the holiday) will tackle other market areas. The usual caveat applies - this is not meant to be a complete or in some other way a statement of recommendation (the vendors mentioned in these columns are not the only vendors you should consider). The goal is to look at patterns rather than individual vendors.

Let’s start with IBM. With the possible exception of EMC, no platform vendor has made a more continuous drumbeat of significant acquisitions in 2006 than IBM. The latest, as of writing, was Vallent for wireless environment management. Vallent adds a strong statement to IBM’s commitment to the telecommunications market. (Yes, a vendor can succeed in both enterprise and telecommunications; in fact the synergies are becoming more not less pronounced, in spite of industry pundits’ competitive needs to proselytize against this idea.) IBM’s investments in MRO Software and CIMS Labs are also more than worthy of consideration in bringing IBM strong asset management capabilities, serious advantages in chargeback and accounting/optimization for the virtualized environment, and a help desk facility that, according to IBM, is more Web services friendly than most.

HP owns the single most attention-getting move with its acquisition of Mercury. While I initially had a lot of reservations about this acquisition, I believe that HP is handling it very well. The acquisition will provide HP with strong pre-application deployment capabilities to complement those where HP is renowned: production level management. For the first time, it brings credibility to HP in true lifecycle management. It will also accelerate, strengthen, and streamline HP’s capabilities in application management - watch this space. Another consideration is that the Mercury acquisition will probably accelerate HP’s CMDB initiative by six to 12-plus months, providing HP with a balanced capability across change-oriented and desired state control, and a more operationally focused, “real-time” system.

HP also got my attention by abandoning the OpenView brand. My reaction was mixed and I await further clarity from HP. So for now I’ll leave this as “the jury’s out.”

Now an aside that’s directed not solely at HP but all platform vendors: In the choice between “end-to-end” and “open” in the next-generation platform wars, “open” wins hands down. The next-generation platform based on years of EMA research and dialogues with IT executives will be the best technology to integrate and automate multi-brand choice. End-to-end is good insofar as it means options or choices for customers. But it is not a platform statement. Whenever it’s meant as a platform statement – it equates to a combination of clichéd marketing (out of touch with real user requirements) and executive vanity.

And now to BMC, which is so far the vendor that communicates this open vs. end-to-end next-generation platform concept the best - especially in terms of how it’s being described by very senior management.

BMC’s Atrium and CMDB initiatives are clearly in tune with the next-generation platform idea (as expressed above), compared to the old all-or-nothing Darth Vadar approach, or the “boy have I got a lot in my bag for you boys and girls!” which I call the Santa Claus approach to platform definition. BMC’s challenge in leading with this next-generation idea is that it’s facing the harsh winds of expectation and demand in addressing some of these challenges, such as for multibrand data integration and reconciliation, and for more complete answers to configuration, compliance and change control, among others. BMC has nonetheless done well with its focus on a core source of integration for strategic management, rather than as being simply the largest bag of tricks. And BMC deserves kudos for this.

I think it’s safe to say that even CA would agree that 2006 will not be its favorite year. Layoffs and vestigial scandals from prior-year controversies have combined with internal challenges for CA to move forward with one of the most enlightened architectural visions in the industry. Product-owner politics and the challenge of getting sales to reach beyond fixed solutions towards enabling capabilities are not only dogging CA, but in varying degrees, all of its competitors. Nonetheless, CA has made, over the last five or six years, one of the most concerted and consistent attempts to re-architect itself away from siloed tools towards a more integrated, extensible system of reusable services that, at least theoretically, could propel it towards solid multi-brand integration as well. I think that CA’s ability to succeed in overcoming cultural battles to unify its own internal ways of thinking in support of this paradigm will either allow it to shoot forward as a rising star, or cripple it into a more obscure and ambivalent marketplace position. Time will tell, but based on executive dialogues, I have significantly more reason for optimism than not.

Next time, we’ll continue our look at platforms with EMC, Symantec, and then move to configuration and change management, plus other areas of the market that got my personal attention in 2006.

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