Game of Clones

“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.”

George R.R. Martin

If you are in the IT infrastructure game, it feels like the old alliances and the forces of virtualization and cloud have breached all the great walls.  It’s the tech industry version of a global war, one rooted both in reality and fantasy.  The “Iron Throne” of the computing industry is the compute cycle, the amount of time and resource used across servers, networking and storage for an application to complete a task. For the vendor world, there is a pitched battle for all the software, services, and miscellaneous technologies that go with it.

What is different this time is that all the large entrants’ armies are marching up and down the computing stack (e.g., servers, storage and networking) – as startups have initiated guerilla actions as they seeking a larger territory.  The downfall of client-server computing is the technology industry’s version of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark’s murders and the chaotic war period in which many viewers are now immersed.   Just change the great brands HP, IBM, Dell, Cisco, Oracle, EMC/VMware, Intel, and Microsoft for the great houses of Lannister, Stark, Tagaryen, Tyrell, Baratheon, etc., and all you need is a weekly mini-series.

This is a game of clones war, however.  The magical weapon category owners now use against the other is their version of the unsullied, a commodity proxy army of their enemy’s hardware or software – effectively a clone.  We saw this first in the server industry in the 1990s, where the x86 server market took off and left the RISC minicomputers in the dust.  Things did not get really interesting until the early 2000s when the magic of server virtualization — led by a new dragon called VMware — leveled the server playing field and decimated the great houses of Sun, DEC, SGI and many others.

“When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who wronged me!” – Daenerys Targaryen

This is no to say the current computing powerhouses are sulking in their castles.  Most have hot actions as well as furtive plans to either shore up their existing territory or claim the market share of others through acquisitions or headlong jumps into open source movements. This falls into three broad flavors:

  1. White box hardware models driven by proprietary software
  2. Proprietary hardware and software that compete on performance
  3. Open software models (e.g., OpenCompute/Facebook, OpenStack, OpenFlow) across a range of hardware models.  This is an epic free-for-all where all the major players are involved in one way or another.

Seemingly each week, a new episode of intrigue and border crossing seems to appear as the giants vie for position.

“Surely there must be ways of having me killed that would be less detrimental to the war effort!”– Tyrion Lannister

What is different in this epic, unlike the client-server revolution before it, IT buyers have a range of options on how to obtain their compute cycles well beyond the traditional great houses:

  • Embrace the open model and be like Facebook and Google and join the bare metal ecosystem (i.e., buy your hardware directly from the original manufacturer).  The new champion is Cumulus Networks, a new entrant in the traditional networking kingdom.
  • Buy it all as a single plug-and-play package as a hyperconvergence models from vendors like Nutanix or Scale Computing
  • Rent it from the cloud (Amazon)
  • Rent pieces like storage and file sharing/collaboration from fast-rising upstarts such as Box
  • Skip the infrastructure and just rent the application (Workday)

While little is certain in the new world of computing, one thing is probable: any forced wedding between customers and vendors will be bloody.

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