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Engineered, Converged, or Integrated, whatever you call them, these systems afford opportunity for innovation

Oracle (Engineered Systems), IBM (PureSystems), HP (Converged Systems), Cisco (Unified Computing Systems) , Dell (Converged Systems) ; are all aimed at solving a set of problems for their customers based on providing more than just hardware and an operating system. While each of these systems vendors targets a particular need in the market, they are all trying to address the desire of making easier to deploy system solutions for their customers albeit their efforts make their entries at different levels of abstraction

For quite some time now vendors have had to address questions about their offerings rooted in a component based mindset. I argue that this paradigm was in part, the visible portion of a backlash against proprietary systems and the abuse some customers perceived they were forced to endure at the hands of their vendor.  While part of me agrees, it would be unfair of me to lay all of the blame on the vendors. Have we forgotten about the engaged and informed consumer ???.

Since those dark days, it seems the industry has swung far to the other side of overly constraining what vendors are allowed to do. Some by direct pressure, and som by indirect industry “standard” pressure. So came the age of interoperability and standards. 

I am not saying that all standards are bad or unnecessary. In my own experience as a hardware developer I can attest to the number of meetings I sat in on where we had to provide features or implement to a standard purely because it was a standard and part of the customer bases checklist. By the way, let me just share that often times standards are not birthed from the womb of altruistic collective technical good. Often times, these standards are the result of a scrum amongst concerned vendors all pushing to get their 2 cents in so as to ease their road to production and profit, sometimes at the expense of others.I know, I know, as I write this, I am changing my place on our sofa so as to provide a moving target for the lightening bolt which I anticipate is headed my way.

How about this mental exercise: What if, in an alternative technology world, the customer specified a problem for which they needed a solution AND articulated that problem in way which allowed the vendor as much room as possible to innovate. In this fictional world, said customer would have already determined that “industry standard” solutions may not be the best fit.

What if this “fictional” customer did care about the system solution’s ability to solve the computing needs in service to their customers, it’s ability to scale in capacity so as to accommodate business growth, it’s reliability, and of course a competitive price.

Oracle’s line of engineered systems is a step in the right direction to address all that has been described above. These systems  come pre-integrated (whatever, folks in the integrated space hate for me to say bundled) with hardware and software matched to yield superior performance and efficiencies (my words not any of the vendors). This is a throwback to the heyday of proprietary system, and there is nothing wrong with proprietary as long as it is not abused. Such systems might even foster authentic and collaborative customer/provider relationships.

One could imagine extrapolating forward to a  time where all sorts of exotic computing, network and storage technologies are more easily brought to the service of customers.Product roadmaps might even become more interesting and compelling as opposed to the the current insomnia they tend to cure.

By one estimate, 2Q 2013 saw the integrated system/platform market at a $1.3B revenue level. Where I come from, that’s real money. Granted, this market sector is still relatively young.Nonetheless it does point to a potential new synergy between customer and provider, one that may be less enamored with clock cycle speeds and gigabits.One that is more concerned with the revenue a technology play may help them realize.

In this brave new world of integrated or engineered system providers, or at least those with real engineering staffs, have an opportunity to  build truly innovative or, dare I use that already hackneyed cliche; disruptive products. It could very well be that this  new class of “engineered” or “integrated” systems might just be the ticket for enabling that talent to do some really great work.

Forrester  asserts that we are entering “The Age of the Customer”.That may well be true, perhaps that assertion should be expanded to read “The age of the customer/technology provider relationship”.  Such an extension might help to encourage the customer to re-evaluate their willingness to support, and prosper from real substantive innovation in parthernship with their vendor of choice.

 

Then again, maybe not

Watson, IBM, and “C-squared A-squared S” markets

With IBM providing external developer access to it’s Watson system they’ve made a clear statement as to where they are putting some skin in the game. As a hardware engineer, and one who admires some of their early work (can you say 801 project) it’s heartening to see Big Blue try and push the envelope here.

Watson is not an overnight development. Nonetheless it’s a very interesting notable early commercial step not just because of the system itself. IBM has decided to “open the kimono”  and enable third party developers to create applications and systems in support of their own businesses. Imagine knowledge based verticals having the ability to now provide services to consumer level customers requiring information and advice around virtually anything.

As access prices to systems similar to Watson drop, and application/system development in this space becomes easier, even small businesses will be able to take advantage of what’s  this technology. For example,  small regional nurseries could provide a service for local gardening enthusisasts in determining what plants make the most sense to grow locally. Couple the computing with remote censoring via bluetooth attached sensor on a droid or iOS device and possibilities are limitless.

Is IBM going to own this market ? Who knows for sure .They will certainly be a player, and it seems they are willing to put substantial resources into promoting it’s success both home grown and in support of external developers. Odds are we are looking at a smallish number of years (>2 <4) based on what it takes IBM  to develop hardware specific to this computing paradigm (or to see their standard processor based systems speed up to handle it). 

The real question is not if, but when the tipping point for consumer use of this technology will occur .As I mentioned above, my sense is 2 to 4 years which is a long time in tech space, but remember that part of this play is also a hearts and minds exercise. Crucial to all of this will be how easy deploying cognitive computing systems (hardware and software) becomes for companies besides IBM. Who else will start to develop purpose built hardware in support of this computing paradigm  ?

If you’re a company who has knowledge specific to a vertical, or maybe a help desk, you might want start thinking about this technology as part of  a knowledge solution you offer to your customers.

I’ll be tracking what new hardware crops up in this space going forward, I expect that might help refine some of this timing. In the meantime….

Finally, What’s “c-squared a-squared s” you ask ? “Cognitive Computing As A Service “of course !!!