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Cage Match: IT Simplicity vs. IT Capability

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Cage Match: IT Simplicity vs. IT Capability

Contributed by Michael Thompson, Director, Systems Management Product Marketing, SolarWinds

The Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth and simple IT systems with no compromise in capabilities-all things that man has quested after for years, but has never been able to find.

While IT vendors have offered up a huge range of IT solutions, there are always tradeoffs to be made between the capabilities (e.g., how many features it has, how many environments it supports, how many things it integrates with, how it scales, etc.) and the simplicity or ease of use of the system. As a general rule, the more it does, the harder it is to make it simple for the user to operate. So, this is where the cage match comes in: I started wondering what the market has told us about which approach-simplicity versus capability-wins.

For starters, we can disqualify the extremes of both approaches-extremely simple but no real functionality or ultimately capable but impossible to implement or use. With that, let's take a look at three technology areas to see what we can learn: hyperconverged systems, cloud and IT management.

Hyper-converged Infrastructure

There are two main flavors of hyper-converged infrastructure-the prebuilt, preconfigured appliance type (e.g., Nutanix, Simplivity, Scale Computing, etc.) and the standardized/tested architecture approach (e.g., EVO:Rail). Both are intended to make it easy to start up a compute infrastructure, including the virtualization, server and storage elements, very quickly and simply. Then, when you want to add another VM, there is often an "easy button" or the equivalent.

So, here we have a classic capability versus simplicity example-the hyper-converged systems can definitely simplify installation, configuration and operations of the environment, but the trade-offs are you can't optimize the system for different workloads, you are stuck with a single hardware vendor when you want to expand for more capacity and while it integrates well internally, integration to an existing environment isn't always a top priority of the vendors. However, for many companies, these problems aren't that important. They may find managing an IT environment challenging and expensive and are thus willing to give something up for that simplicity and ease of use.

That segment of the market is all about hyperconverged infrastructure and related vendors tend to be seeing very strong growth. What you don't see very often is mid- or large-scale datacenters swapping out there existing infrastructure and replacing it with hyper-converged ones. So, in this case and at this time, my view is that simplicity is driving strong growth in a segment of the market, but capability will remain the dominant player in the market for the near-term.

Result: I'd call this a draw.


Cloud has been the hot topic for a long time now-Amazon Web Services launched in 2006. Every year since then, the demise of on-premises infrastructure has been predicted. This hasn't been all hype as cloud implementations have been growing substantially over time, but this should still be put in perspective. In a presentation by Michael Cote leveraging data from Gartner and Goldman Sachs, he shows that the cloud IaaS and PaaS markets are expected to grow at a 30 percent 5-year CAGR, compared to only 3 percent 5-year CAGR for traditional IT spending. Other analysts have even higher growth predictions for cloud markets. But in absolute terms, the Cloud IaaS and PaaS markets are predicted to be $21 billion in 2015 versus $312 billion for the traditional IT market.

While there is clearly a shift going on with more new investment moving to cloud, there is a long way to go before it replaces traditional IT systems. This is due to a number of factors. First, while cloud can be much cheaper for short-term capacity, it can also be more expensive as a permanent replacement for well-optimized on-premises capacity. There is also a loss of control over both performance and security in a public cloud. For example, cloud vendors generally only provide limited performance data and are only held to SLA agreements. These contracts and SLAs also typically include very limited financial exposure for the cloud vendor if something goes wrong. So, if there is a big financial impact resulting from application performance problems, those will be borne by the cloud user, not the cloud vendor. 

Still, the simplicity of just outsourcing IT to a cloud vendor and consuming the services as you need them can meet a lot of needs. Overall, the disparate growth rates tell a story that the simplicity provided by cloud offerings is very appealing to many companies.

Result: By split decision, I have to go with cloud and simplicity.

IT Monitoring and Management

The scope of management can be huge, including different platforms (e.g., Windows, Linux, Unix, Mainframe), technical disciplines (e.g., application, network, database, storage, virtualization, help desk, desktop, security, etc.) and vendors (e.g., Dell versus HP servers, NetApp versus EMC arrays, VMware versus Hyper-V hypervisors, etc.). All this diversity can make management extremely complex. In fact, many of the early offerings attempted to cover a large number of these permutations in a single product or framework. As a result of these broad capabilities, complexity often went through the roof. Legacy Big 4 solutions often took months or years to implement by some of the most expensive consultants on the planet, and even then, they often failed.

That provided an opening for a new generation of solutions from companies like SolarWinds, ServiceNow and Splunk that really focus on simplifying complex problems. Part of this simplification does involve limiting the technical capabilities in some areas. For example, if you want detailed monitoring of Mainframe, OS/400, Windows and Solaris all in the same product, you will probably have to go with a more complex solution from IBM or CA. However, if you can succeed by monitoring for Windows, Linux and Unix systems, SolarWinds or other similar companies should have everything you need.

Admittedly, the legacy players can see the writing on the wall and are working to either build or buy new solutions that are easier to use, but it can be tough to complete against your own profitable install base. SolarWinds, ServiceNow and Splunk have all had multiple years of double digit growth, while as a group, the legacy vendors have had flat or declining market share.

Result: Simplicity by a knockout.

As a society, we have come to expect more. We want to have our cake and eat it too. In the IT market, it's pretty clear that strong, but targeted functional capabilities combined with market-leading simplicity is a winning combination. The question is: what will be simplified next?


About the Author

Michael Thompson, Director, Systems Management Product Marketing, SolarWinds. 

Michael has worked in the IT management industry for more than 14 years, including leading product management teams and portfolios in the storage and virtualization/cloud spaces for IBM. He holds a master of business administration and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. 

Make sure to also read, "The Hybrid Cloud - Choose Wisely" and "App-Centric and Admin-Centric -- Too Much to Ask?

Published Thursday, March 26, 2015 6:35 AM by David Marshall
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