The beginning of the end of IT as we know it
It's easy to talk about all this in abstract. Prognosticating about the future of IT is a fool's game, and putting actual dates to things is sheer madness. If I'm going to take the risk of being so laughably wrong in public, I should at least join Gartner so that I can milk a high salary out of promoting my humiliation, no?
Given the kind of pushback even small parts of an on-premises SDI block are getting, it is perfectly rational to think that the entire IEM would be impossible. Except that they already exist, and based on months of research, I have every reason to believe that IEMs will start shipping very, very soon... and that they won't be an "enterprise only" affair.
Let's start with the only early IEM that actually exists: IBM's SoftLayer. Right at this moment, I would consider it to be a functional – albeit primitive and early days – IEM manifestation.
SoftLayer is not simply a public cloud offering. Heck, calling what IBM serves up as a "cloud" is simplifying things by a lot. IBM can remotely provision for you virtual machines (VMs), containers or bare-metal servers in a few different architectures.
IBM have a library of software that can be deployed at the push of a button, and are adding new features and functionality to cover every aspect of IT infrastructure. We're not talking about paying lip service to concepts like data protection, but fully capable, customisable solutions supported by a rich partner ecosystem.
If you ask nicely enough, IBM will install a SoftLayer cloud on your premises. Regional providers can get a full SoftLayer installed for them so you can move your workloads over to them. Alternately – because of IBM's deep investment in OpenStack – you can move your workloads off your local or IBM-hosted SoftLayer set-up over to regional providers running OpenStack.
IBM has evolved SoftLayer into the first IEM. We could quibble about some points, for example, that IBM still relies on legacy storage array and networking tech too much to meet the strictest definitions.
The key is that in jettisoning their own hardware-manufacturing divisions, IBM has become entirely agnostic about such things. IBM are not against hyper-convergence, SDN, NFV or any of the newer, sexier technologies. They are being integrated and will most likely become the default over the next few years, as they are becoming the default across the industry. Nothing about IBM's culture, management software or approach makes these technologies hard to migrate to.
Of course, that IBM have an IEM is functionally irrelevant to the world at large. It's IBM, so virtually no one will ever be able to afford it.
However, there are other players that are close. The closest to producing actual purchasable IEMs are VMware, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.
VMware has almost all the pieces needed to make an IEM. Indeed, if I hire the right VCDXes to build it and add in the right third-party software from VMware's partner ecosystem, I could build an IEM out of VMware's software. In fact, I've done it more than once in the past couple of months, though the cost per VM is absolutely breathtaking.
Despite having the pieces, I have absolutely zero faith that VMware will create an actual, usable IEM. Too much of it goes against VMware's culture. VMware is far too fragmented internally for all the various groups to work together, and – perhaps the key point – the companies with the critical missing bits are terrified of working closely with VMware.
VMware doesn't understand the importance of trust. Trust among partners and among customers. It is thrashing about like an Oracle in the making, seeing how tight it can get the vice grips it has on everyone's genitals. This will be its undoing.
Buying an IEM from any vendor requires either that you trust that vendor implicitly, or that the vendor in question be so married to open standards that you feel you can move away from it easily. When you buy your entire IT infrastructure as variations on a single SKU, lock-in is a real concern – one VMware is institutionally incapable of understanding.