Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's a sign!

The picture I have included here if of Brad Poole and I out in the Arizona desert and no, we weren’t escaping prison. Some of you though, on occasion, think that I should be locked up! This wasn’t one of those times and from the signs posted, there was no risk of us going anywhere.

It was 1993, and I had joined a group of Tandem developers for a META Group conference in Phoenix, Arizona. We found their presentation style of point and counterpoint annoying, so we skipped a couple of sessions to explore the surrounding desert.

A year later, I attended another META Group conference in Orlando, Florida that was held at the Peabody Hotel. For those not familiar with this hotel chain, it maintains the tradition of the “March of The Peabody Ducks”. It came as no surprise to any of the attendees when, as the conference opened, one of the senior META analysts walked to the podium with the Peabody Ducks lined up behind him. It was hilarious, and I am not sure the conference ever fully returned to the more somber topic on hand.

In 1994, I attended yet another analyst conference, this time my first Gartner Symposium and Expo back in Orlando. I knew that both Bill Gates and Lou Gerstner were presenting and I reckoned that this was an event not to miss.

Bill Gates came on stage in a suite-and-tie and gave a formal presentation, whereas Lou Gerstner showed up with no tie, no jacket, and had his sleeves rolled up. Bill Gates described his vision for Microsoft’s presence in the enterprise, but Lou Gerstner just wanted to get to know the audience. This was where he explained to everyone that he had had it with the visions, and that now he was more interested in the execution.

He was really keen to ask questions, and he had made sure all of his management team were with him and that they took full advantage of the opportunity to spend time with the community. His sincerity was contagious and it was a very clear sign of the success that was to follow him.

There have been a number of times where I have given serious thought to becoming an industry analyst. Eventually, after talking with a number of them, I just couldn’t make the jump, and now those days are well and truly behind me. I am not sure the pirate in me would have sat well with the culture I found in these companies.

It is against this background, that I began to look over the reports coming out of the most recent Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2007 and the one that really caught me eye was the Top 10 Strategic Technology Areas for 2008. I am familiar with the work that goes into these reports, and with the internal posturing of analysts that precedes their publication as every group’s pet project competes for visibility. And top of the list this year was Green IT!

For those of you who have read my blog posting of October 20th "The pull from twin stars ..." you may recall how I viewed "Security and Environment" as potentially two of the most powerful factors triggering the consolidation of servers and the return to large, centralized computer complexes. Gartner sees that with Green IT, where much of the underlying chip, power, cooling, etc technology is already mature, “there may be limits put on data center choices”! As we have begun to see already, servers that consume too much power or generate too much heat will be restricted to only special-case deployment opportunities.

As I looked at the Top 10 list, two other items caught my attention. Coming in 5th was Virtualization 2.0 and then in 8th spot was Fabric. They were mixed in with the usual suspects - Mashups & Composite Applications, Business Process Modeling, and Unified Communications.

While Gartner still talks about the traditional elements of virtualization, and how it’s all about “flexibility, and the ability to adapt”, as well as how “these advantages go beyond mere hardware savings”, with Virtualization 2.0, they begin to lay the groundwork for what’s coming next. Gartner, true to form, even produced a chart with an eleven-layer stack that includes such items as “on-the-fly movement of work”, “restacking workloads for DR”, and “mix of personal and business on PC”!

But it’s when I skimmed through the description of Fabric that I began to recognize the signs. Gartner suggests that the “fabric-based server of the future will treat memory, processors, and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suite the owners needs”. The analyst contributing these items to the list goes on to add, “blade servers are just an intermediate stage” and that “a fabric will allow several blades to be merged. Blades are not the final step” as he suggests something a lot more fluid in nature!

One of the attractions that becoming an analyst always held for me was that there was no end-game; commenting on the future of the industry could go on forever. But irrespective of this, Gartner was giving us a very strong sign confirming that blade servers will become the dominant package technology in 2008.

As I continued to go down the list of Top 10 Strategic Technology Areas, I couldn’t help noticing that Security wasn’t specifically called out. I view Security, much like Green IT as having enormous impact on our business plans. But then, as I dug deeper, Security had found a place across all Top 10 items.

There was a song back in the early ‘70s by the Five Man Electrical Band, the chorus of which simply said:

“Sign Sign everywhere a sign Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign”

And in the picture at the top of this blog the signs were unambiguous.

But I often recall these lines when I think about Gartner and other organizations analyzing our industry. All too often they are just as easy to dismiss as other consultants and claim they just tell us which way the horses all went. When they do get onto interesting topics, it’s sometimes hard to follow the signs or to understand the signals they send.

While Gartner may be looking to a future where the packaging of components takes on a more fluid form, I must admit that for the immediate future, I am really looking forward to the arrival of blades. It’s very clear to many of us that in 2008, HP will be rolling out an extensive line of blade servers including support for NonStop. Perhaps the only view these signs are blocking out right now is exactly when they will become available.

The signs are all there – shouldn’t we all be pleased to see that HP is beginning to get, just as META did many years ago, its ducks lined up, and headed in the right direction?

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