I, for one, welcome the rise of the Infrastructure Endgame Machines
Software Defined Infrastructure – we had it coming
HP is another company that is busy building an IEM. Its investments in OpenStack are impressive, as is its storage, networking, management software and so forth. HP is building the pieces. It is assembling them in the correct order.
The result is that HP is building an impressive Saturn V of an IEM, to awe and amaze all who gaze upon it. Of course, it's HP, so the company has aimed the damned thing at the ground – and it’ll fire everyone involved in its design and construction just before it actually ignites the engine.
Windows Server is baking a primitive form of hyper-convergence called Storage Replica into its next Windows Server, and trying hard to cut Windows Server down to a usable size. Heck, Microsoft is even adding container support to the mix.
Trust and licensing are Microsoft's stumbling blocks here. Though Microsoft will deny it vehemently in public, the company emphatically does not want you using regional service providers or running workloads on your own infrastructure. The company’s words and actions are not aligned.
The IEM is about more than simply running your workloads on expensive public infrastructure owned by a company beholden to the US of NSA. It is about the ability to run those workloads where they are appropriate and make the most sense. The body corporate of Microsoft doesn't agree that this is the future, though some parts keep working on it, and the marketing messaging periodically tries to convince us of this, before changing to "Azure public is the solution to everything".
Microsoft has spent billions trying to put regional service providers and a large part of its own partner ecosystem out of business. The company has jacked up SPLA pricing to where it is essentially impossible to compete with Microsoft's hosted Azure directly. SPLA still has completely ridiculous licensing restrictions that prevent service providers from building a truly shared infrastructure, and VARs and MSPs have margins for everything other than selling Azure public cloud services slashed to meaninglessness.
From a technological perspective, Microsoft would seem to be on track towards creating an IEM. That said, this is Microsoft. It might decide tomorrow that the future of IT is a mutant hybrid chihuahua-giraffe thing that requires all new APIs, new programming languages, a baffling new interface and you to retain Microsoft-certified licensing lawyers on staff. It's Microsoft: consistency isn't its strong suit.
Cisco has its own networking and servers. The company also boasts partnerships with required elements up and down the stack from hyper-converged vendors like Maxta and SimpliVity to every kind of management, automation and orchestration piece you could imagine.
Cisco lacks a credible public cloud offering and doesn't have much of a hybrid story at all. These are things Cisco can buy, if it feels the IEM is more than voices in my head. Cisco's problem isn't getting the pieces together in time to be a real competitor. Cisco's problem is that it's Cisco.
Cisco has a culture of total lock-in followed by ruthless exploitation of that lock-in. This hardly it the company anyone wants to trust with the totality of their IT infrastructure. Moving away from that would require some pretty big cultural changes inside the firm but, for once, it may actually be possible to see that level of change.
Cisco has experienced a CEO change, and the incoming chief has presided over a purge of the executive layer. It has also seen it's Invicta acquisition fail. Reports from staffers have the mood within Cisco as being somewhere between Game of Thrones and House of Cards, with collateral damage reported far and wide.
What will Cisco be when the dust settles? Nobody knows... but they could be an IEM contender.