Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I've got to find a safe haven ...

I have just returned from spending 3 days on the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry, with 50 or so folks from the Scandinavian VNUG and the Finnish FinTUG user groups. The photo here is taken from their conference room on the ferry – and I have to tell you, the appointments onboard the Silja Line ferry “Serenade” were great. The event even kicked off with a “champagne toast” - and that’s a first for me at any user group events!

Neil Pringle, chief of HP NonStop EMEA sales, was in good mood and he was extremely pleased with the way the quarter had gone, and with the momentum he was seeing built in support of the NonStop platform. But buried in his slide deck was a slide I could not remember seeing before, and it did make an impact on me, as it declared “HP Integrity: Your future is our future”!

But perhaps the biggest impression on me didn’t make any of the presentations, or any of the conversations I had, but the taxi rides and cafĂ© meals in the lead up to the event. It really hit home how far the mighty US dollar has fallen, and how everything else – the Euro, the British Pound, even the Swedish Krona, became so much stronger.

The momentum behind the Euro, pushing its value to new heights and showing no signs of slowing down, was evident everywhere I went. I couldn’t count the number of times I had to return to the ATM machine for more cash, and it hurt. According to an editorial in the weekend edition of USA Today (November 16, 2007) even the American rapper Jay-z, in his latest video clip, was flashing wads of 500 Euro notes – a sign that even when it came to depicting over-the-top extravagance, the US dollar didn’t cut it any more.

For as long as I can recall, whenever global economies fell on hard times, there was always a flight to currency “safe havens”, and for all of this time it was the US Dollar that was the currency of first choice. But not any more; how times have changed. Some of the extremists within OPEC are now pushing to decouple the price of a barrel of oil from the US dollar claiming that they were exchanging their countries future for “worthless piece of paper”!

While the Euro has become really strong, it’s not good for everyone in Europe. The Financial Times reported that Hungary’s Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, was pushing through a constitutional change that would limit the country’s total deficit to just 60 % of GDP. I was in Budapest the weekend they held the referendum on joining the European Union (EU), and witnessed first hand all the excitement that followed the overwhelming Yes! But in the years that have followed that vote, the government has pushed the country deep into debt. The Prime Minister accepted that it had all been the politicians themselves who were at fault, and he was justifying the introduction of constitutional change by “sometimes, we have to protect ourselves from ourselves”!

From the IT perspective, there is a lot of parallel. For as long as I can recall, when it came time for users to make a software investment, the safe haven was the primary vendor. Primary vendor’s offerings may not have been as feature rich, or be as functionally complete, as products from other vendors but you could always rely on the primary vendor giving you a hand, should you ever get into difficulties.

But is this really the case anymore? Have we come to a point where the tightly focused interests of our primary vendor are no longer in sync with our broader interests? Have the demands on Primary Vendors to support operating systems, selections of infrastructure, etc. lessened or even devalued their capabilities?

Has the flight to a safe haven now taken us in new destinations, where there is a new sense of cooperation and where the partners are contributing just as much, if not more than Primary Vendors? And should we be surprised to find that partner’s products are just as safe a bet now? Should we even blink when we see that the often-needed hand-holding through difficult times is just as available from partners as it has been in the past from the primary vendor?

When I posted the blog “What did you have in mind?” on September 24th, I outlined the three areas I was most interested in covering – the platform (Blades, key infrastructure like SOA, etc.), the system (availability, scalability, security), and data base (ODS and EDW, as well as business intelligence (BI)). My idea was to focus on issues inside the data center and to look at enterprise-wide architectures and infrastructure. But it’s become very clear to me that this now involves a whole range of partner products, and that partners will be involved in many important solutions creation.

And then, during the Euro ITUG event in Brighton, on October 14th , I posted the blog “Bugs are Everywhere …” where I included Randy Meyer’s comment that, from his Product Management perspective, investment would continue to be made in three areas – Security, SOA, and Data Base! Randy pointed out that with Security, there would be a number of partnerships, and that even for SOA infrastructure offerings, a number of good alternative product offerings from the partner community were now available. As for data base, HP NonStop would be relying on the product offerings of partners, a topic that was revisited many times within the Business Continuity SIG meetings at Brighton. Many of the products to do with migrating and maintaining data bases would be coming from long-serving partners and users were finding that there was a wealth of choice in this area.

Partners are an integral part of the HP NonStop community, and as we sailed across the Baltic these past couple of days, I watched Neil giving them all a lot of support – I saw him spending quality time with Andreas of comForte, as well as with Sean from XYPRO. The ferry boat ride between Stockholm and Helsinki was an ideal environment to catch up on the latest partner developments and yes, by then, beer was involved. From my perspective, the HP senior management all seem to get it, and they understand the value that comes with partner cooperation.

However, in the weeks that have passed since Brighton, what is bothering me is the confusion I am now seeing among the users. The services and consulting groups within HP are often not on the same page as senior management, seemingly ignoring the partner offerings. On some occasions, and I have to assume out of lack of awareness of partner capabilities, they even talk the customer out of their original requirements and into accepting a lesser-function product from HP. Maybe its all still a case of some people within the HP organization unable to stop themselves being themselves!

And from where I stand, the timing couldn’t be any worse for HP. Momentum is a very delicate state – it takes a lot of energy to overcome inertia, and the fragility of the momentum leaves it exposed to any changes in the marketplace. Should any of the key partners trying to cooperate with the HP NonStop group give up, and look to other vendors and their platforms, the community will be the poorer for it. The exit of too many of these partners will really destabilize the HP NonStop ecosystem. Momentum can easily shift and be gone, just as quickly as it arrived.

At a time when all users are looking for a safety, and are looking to build relationships that will help with their transition to the new platforms and technologies coming from HP, now is not the time for the HP field to get too far behind the messages from their executives. Again, to paraphrase the text on Neil’s slides – “your future is their future”!

Yes, we all know that developers and product managers become very attached to “their” products– treating all opportunities in the marketplace as another chance to further grow their installed base. But shouldn’t they be lifting their eyes a little higher to see beyond the HP NonStop they are familiar with?

Shouldn’t everyone involved with the HP NonStop platform be refocusing and taking in the view of the thriving HP NonStop partner community that is all around them? There are now many “safe havens”, apart from the one provided by the primary vendor. To paraphrase the Hungarian Prime Minister, haven’t we reached a time where we all have to move on, and stop being ourselves?


Jim Michael said...

Richard, I'm enjoying your blog. It's a great mix of interesting general commentary and insightful analysis of issues in IT.

I appreciate the point you've made this time about primary vendors and their capabilities and relevance. I think some of the vendors' M & A activity is driven by these forces.

When successful, vendors increase their relevance, capability and/or capacity by acquiring the right firms. When these acquisitions go wrong, they can leave the customer with less than the sum of the parts instead of more.

I think this is also very much the case with partnerships. When I compare IBM and Microsoft, for example, I often see IBM choosing to play to their strengths and welcoming partners to add value; increasing options for customers.

In contrast, Microsoft's choice to exercise greater control over the end-to-end solution allows them to define solutions more narrowly, but can limit them in leveraging what partners' can bring to the partnership.

Bill Highleyman said...

Richard -
It took some guts to go head-to-head with HP on their tendency at times to ride over third-party vendors in favor of their own products. I think that this is a poor policy from both the viewpoint of encouraging an active and successful third-party environment and of doing what is right for the customer.

I remember a Summit Q&A recently where top NonStop management vowed not to do this. But I still hear of cases where RDF has been offered free to lock out a replication vendor. And what about developing their NTP product when a better solution had been availabile from a third-party for years?