Of vendors, partners and ecosystems

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8 December 2015 | 0

Paul HearnsHaving been to more than one large vendor event recently, I was struck by a common theme. Many large vendors have made huge efforts to fill out their offerings to provide a one stop shop for customers.

Whether they are large virtualisation vendors, general enterprise application companies or just a platform provider, a common approach seems to be to offer something at every level in the technology stack for their own ecosystem.

Amid promises of no vendor lock-in, cross platform, cross application support and ever more announcements of partnerships to ensure all of the above, key note presentations leave one wondering why any customer would go elsewhere when the founder of the ecosystem is so beneficent in its accommodation.

“Key note presentations leave one wondering why any customer would go elsewhere when the founder of the ecosystem is so beneficent in its accommodation”

In fact, it makes one walk the exhibition floor that is usually attached to these large events wondering what everybody is doing there. Many of these companies have spent big on being there and apart from their capacious stands and staff, some have even pushed the boat out to have an eye-catcher that brings even more people to them. Sports cars, yacht hulls, F1 simulators, gadgets, stress balls, competitions, prize draws and more have thankfully replaced the booth babe, but are there nonetheless to entice the conference/forum attendee to come in and hear a pitch, listen to a seminar or just get some good old fashioned branding products.

The range is always impressive too, as there are often one or two major stands from companies that fall within the terrible portmanteau category of ‘co-opetition’ — companies that not only play within the ecosystem of the organiser, but also offer alternatives that compete directly on one or more elements of the stack.

Out of genuine interest and curiosity at one such event recently, I walked the floor after hearing the complete offering argument from the organiser, and asked several major players within that ecosystem, as well as others, what they were doing there if the stack was so complete.

First of all, there was no need to rephrase the question, or to elaborate citing the release announcements or product sheets — every person I spoke to got it immediately. And pretty much to a person, all said the same thing.

The response was that while the founder of the ecosystem did indeed offer a complete stack for which the ‘better together’ argument may be valid, the partners in the ecosystem could offer more. The partners could focus intently on some element within the system, leveraging the founder’s platform, infrastructure or technology and develop a value-add offering that still differentiated for the customer.

This approach seemed to be particularly evident in those companies that focused on specific verticals or sectors, with — surprise, surprise — financial, pharma-chem, medical and other old favourites, all featuring in examples given.

Within these sectors, but also generally, the partner companies were confident of their ability to build on the ecosystem founder’s capabilities and still have a viable offering.

This, however, begged the obvious question as to whether this might be the basis for another form of vendor lock-in. If a customer was accustomed to the ecosystem and then further leveraged it by employing the specific offering of a partner within it if there is no equivalent in another ecosystem/platform, does that not leave them locked in?

The general response was, well, so what?

So what indeed. One might say that if the specific need is not being met elsewhere, why would one look elsewhere?

It may also be argued that when it comes to cloud services, whether they are platform, infrastructure or just software as a service, an exit strategy is a good idea, and indeed essential for many public bodies. But the response from the partner companies was that this did not seem to be a concern for the customers using their services. Customers seemed happy to be getting the advantages of these tailored or specific capabilities, made all the more accessible, consumable and competitive by the ecosystem or platform, and were unconcerned at the prospect of vendor lock-in in this context.

All of this has some interesting implications for enterprise cloud adoption in general.

It would appear for the most part, that in the private sector, the advantages of cloud in general, and then specialist vendors within an ecosystem or platform outweigh concerns for exit strategies or migration. Ease of access, cost, support and scalability appear to combine into such a compelling prospect for competitive advantage that other concerns are overshadowed.

It is worth bearing in mind though, that this is all within the context of ever greater adoption of open standards and frameworks that ensure interoperability between clouds, both public to public and private to public.

It appears that in this first flush of core workload migration to the cloud, the novelty of the journey is such no one is really thinking too much about leaving it. However, I have already heard rumblings from one or two vendors, and some consultants, about early adopters moving certain workloads back in house, having had them in public cloud. In fact, at the recent Next Computing Forum, Howard Ting, CMO of converged infrastructure vendor Nutanix, said that when applications are in the mature, predictable phase of their operation, on-premises hosting is cheaper than cloud providers in the long term, as the cloud providers have to charge for the fact that the workload can be withdrawn at any time.

As cloud services and platforms mature, becoming not only more robust but more standardised, and standards adherent, they may indeed become differentiated by the partner ecosystem around them and the value they add as much as the base capabilities. If costs are such that it makes little difference between on-premises and cloud hosted, then other factors such as reliability, management, accessibility, scalability, support and, critically, features will become the differentiators. While the major providers work to flesh out their platforms so that there is no reason not to choose it over a competitor, then the partners, who are free to focus on specialist or individual needs, may actually be the deciding factor in winning hearts, minds and wallets.


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