Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fatal Attraction from Cisco

Finally, Cisco announced what had been about the worst kept secret in the tech industry – that they would be making servers. They put a wrapper around it that they called the Unified Computing System which packages together everything you want in your data center and uses virtualization to make it “simple” (their word not mine). The name is not very imaginative (how many Unified somethings do we have any way) but at least it describes their ambition.

Thirty seconds after the announcement, both the Cisco haters and Cisco apologists launched their offensives into the skies of the blogsphere and the beaches of the social networks. Cisco's own press release sounded down right militaristic claiming “Cisco Unleashes the Power of Virtualization with Industry's First Unified Computing System”. You can still smell the burning wiring from the initial volleys.

The issue at stake is whether this is just a thinly veiled blade server launch (big snore everyone) or a radical new way to approach computing. As is always the case, the truth is somewhere in between. Still, I'm leaning to the YABS (yet another blade server) side of the argument. There is little that Cisco is offering that others have not offered before. By others I mean every major IT equipment company. We used to call it end-to-end solutions but I guess everyone will say Unified something or other from now on. I'm waiting for the Unified Unity of the Universe of Computing before I build my next data center. I want it to do everything I have yet to dream of including wash my car.

I'm not against Cisco by the way. I like their network equipment, a lot of nice people work there, and they help fund my son's Cisco networking class in high school. Okay the last one is probably a bit self serving on their part. I have no doubt they are helping to create the next generation of Cisco apologist zombies but the kid likes it so who am to complain.

What I am willing to rail against is monoculture. Buying everything from one company opens you up to a world of pain. Monoculture is like a jealous lover. It demand undying loyalty and only gives to you what it wants you to have when it thinks you deserve it. Given enough time, monoculture turns into Fatal Attraction.

It starts innocently enough. “ Baby, don't you want only one place to go to for support? I know you do.” And “I can give you everything you want and it will all work together. You don't need those other systems.” And of course “ Honey, I can make it so easy for you, so easy.” Then, it turns ugly. Want that new feature that the other companies already have? Sorry. You'll get it when your lover wants you to have it. Found a rather disturbing flaw? It's might be everywhere. Thinking of leaving? Well don't. With it's claws in you this deep, the pain won't be worth it. Instead, you will continue to take the abuse until, one day, your monoculture system company decides it will leave you. They don't call it End of Life for nothing.

I won't beat on Cisco for making this move. It's kind of gutsy in a recession. I won't embrace it either. Buying a unified anything has enormous risks. Buying a unified data center is asking for trouble.

If Cisco wants to slug it out in the server wars against its own partners, that's their business. Don't know if it's smart but I don't care. They have money to throw at initiatives like this and the storage switch play worked. Just don't expect me to invite it to my house where it can kill my pets.

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