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The turf war of unified computing

by Lydia Leong  |  January 22, 2009  |  2 Comments

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] 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.

(Yes, I really did make a lolcat just for this post.)

Category: infrastructure  

Tags: cloud  people  

Lydia Leong
VP Distinguished Analyst
16 years at Gartner
23 years IT industry

Lydia Leong covers cloud computing and infrastructure strategies, along with a broad range of topics related to the transformation of IT organizations, data centers, and technology providers.Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The turf war of unified computing

  1. Hmmm, back when the mainframe was providing unified computing (which to me just means “central control”) and the PC and LAN came about, there was a lot of betting that the “systems” guys would win.

    Then, when the VLAN switch came about, there was a lot of betting that the “network” guys would win – until the Internet, and later, WLANs, broke down the network guys’ control.

    Now, virtualization (both server side and desktop) is trying to assert control once again – while iPhones and home PCs are pulling control away from IT yet again.

    I don’t *either* the systems guys or the network guys are going to win with centralized control approachs. See

  2. Hi Lydia. Find below my post in the group “Unified Computing” in LinkedIn. Welcome any comment.

    Why is it necessary to be a guru to deploy an IT infrastructure? Things are changing?

    In this blog, , Lydia gives us their impressions about the well-known historical war between several sects, network, telephony and systems guys, with the arrival of Unified Computing. Who will reign on the management system? She believes the system gurus will get the throne.

    In my opinion, we must be practical and refocus our mismatched glasses: it is better to have several technicians with wide knowledge on several technologies and using integrated systems with friendly tools that avoid a “machine code programming” and easy the engineering, instead a group of capricious and irreplaceable gurus in single technologies that make the growing amount of integrated IT projects a nightmare. I have suffer this in the past too much times and my obsession now is to bring the market a tool for democratize the IT engineering. At the end this means better efficiency and less configuration errors, fast engineering and cost reduction, easy replacement of engineers or shifts, more collaboration and less divas… The key point: an unified management system, One for controlling everything, like in the wonderful Talkien tales 🙂 E. Cimadevila

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