Daily Archives: September 3, 2010

OpenPlug Buy Deepens Alcatel-Lucent’s Commitment to Application Enablement

I spoke earlier today with representatives of Alcatel-Lucent about the company’s acquisition of OpenPlug and how it fits into a broader application-enablement strategy that bridges developers and service providers.

Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s developer platforms and related programs, explained that company’s move into developer tools is part of a long-term strategy that could help redefine the relationship between developers, primarily of the mobile variety, and service providers. In the process, of course, it also could help redefine Alcatel-Lucent relationships with both constituencies, particularly service providers.

The way Alcatel-Lucent sees it, the company is responding to an urgent needs in both camps. For a long time, developers have wanted wireless operators and other carriers to expose more of their network services. Wireless operators, for their part, often have been willing to play along, but they haven’t had the means of doing so. Meanwhile, smartphone vendors, such as Apple and Google, sought to fill the void with device-specific development tools for application creation and monetization.

Sending Strong Signal

With its Open API initiative, its earlier acquisition of ProgrammableWeb, and now its acquisition of OpenPlug, Alcatel-Lucent is sending a strong signal that it is serious about application-enablement. In sending that signal, it’s letting wireless operators know that it’s in their corner as they try to regain some of the developer and subscriber patronage they’ve surrendered to Apple and, increasingly, to Google.

In theory, Alcatel-Lucent’s push to become a valued intermediary between developers and service providers makes sense, but the challenge is daunting. On one side, it must convince developers that it is creating a new broad-based platform that will allow them to address network-layer services and target a wide range of smartphone and feature-phone handsets without having to compromise on application quality. On the other side, it must convince wireless operators and other carriers that it can help them draw the support of developers. It’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma, and it will need support and mutual reinforcement from both parties to have a viable shot at success.

Toward that end, Alcatel-Lucent is working hard to ensure that it precludes potential objections from either side of the aisle. Developers, for instance, can be wary of lowest-common denominator approaches to serving broad-based device demographics. They want to ensure that applications are optimized for the devices on which run and deliver good customer experiences. As such, Alcatel-Lucent takes pains to note that OpenPlug lets developers write once using a single development tool and then compile natively to each operating system.

Indeed, OpenPlug’s ELIPS Studio, which now becomes part of Alcatel Lucent’s developer platform, is a development environment that allows ISVs to create and deploy mobile applications cost-effectively and quickly across iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Linux, and other systems.

Arrayed Against Apple, Google

Fundamentally, Alcatel-Lucent’s whole application-enablement strategy is intended to put it in league with developers and service providers against the fragmented forces of independent smartphone platforms, such as Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and RIM’s BlackBerry. The smartphone vendors cannot be expected to provide Alcatel-Lucent with any comfort.

Even though the application-enablement initiative is intended to be synergistic with the Alcatel-Lucent’s core business of selling telecommunications equipment, the company is committed to making the the new initiative a going concern in its own right. That will take work and perseverance, but the two acquisitions this year — with perhaps more M&A activity to follow — suggest that the company is in it for the long haul.

It’s good for Alcatel-Lucent to have something like application-enablement in its back pocket as a means of differentiating it from lower-cost telco-equipment vendors such as Huawei and ZTE. It’s also a good insurance policy against margin erosion on the hardware side of the business. On the score, Alcatel-Lucent is taking a “freemium” ad and license-based approach to sales of its application-enablement software to the developer community, and it will sell licenses to wireless operators and other carriers.

Whether Alcatel-Lucent will be successful in its application-enablement capacity remains to be seen, but the company, in making two acquisitions and allocating substantial resources to the effort, does not seem inclined to cut and run.

Virtualization Still Calls Data-Center Tune

As the latest VMworld begins its transformation from current event to memory, now probably is as good a time as any to reflect on what it all means, if anything, for the future of data centers, the IT industry, and various big-name vendors.

There has been a lot of talk about public, private, and hybrid clouds at VMworld, but I think that’s something of a side issue. Yes, certain enterprises and organizations will partake of cloud services, and, yes, many enterprises will adopt a philosophy of IT as service within their data centers. They’ll make data-center management and automation decisions accordingly.

Even so, at a practical level, it is virtualization that continues to drive meaningful change. The  robust growth of virtualization has introduced problems (optimists would call them opportunities), too. How do you automate it, how do you manage it, how do you control it so that it remains a business asset rather than a potential liability?

Reciprocal Choking

At a fundamental level, that’s the big problem that data centers, whether within enterprises or service providers, must solve. The ultimate solution might involve data- center convergence — the integration and logical unification of servers, storage, networking, and orchestration — but it’s not clear whether that is the only option, or whether the price of vendor lock-in is worth the presumed benefit. Most enterprise customers, for the time being, will resist the urge to have one throat to choke, if only because they fear the choking might be reciprocal.

Indeed, as the vendor community has reacted to the popular appeal of data-center virtualization, the spectacle has been fascinating to watch. Who will gain control?

It’s not a simple question to answer, because the vendors themselves won’t have the final say; nor will the industry’s intelligentsia and punditry, formidable as they may be. No, the final arbiters are those who own, run, and manage the data centers that are being increasingly virtualized. Will network managers, or at least those with a strong networking sensibility, reign supreme? Will the leadership emerge from the server, application, or storage side of the house? What sorts of relationships will  these customers have with the vendor community, and which companies will serve as trusted counsel?

Ownership of Key Customer Relationships

As virtualization, by necessity, breaks down walls and silos, entirely new customer relationships will develop and new conversations will occur. Which vendors will be best positioned to cultivate or further develop those relationships and lead those conversations?

Meanwhile, vendors are placing their bets on technologies, and on corporate structures and strategic priorities. HP is an interesting case. Its Enterprise Servers Storage and Networks (ESSN) seems increasingly titled toward storage and servers, with networking — though not an insignificant consideration — relegated increasingly to a commoditized, supporting role. Just look at the executive management at the top of ESSN, both at HP headquarters and worldwide. You’ll notice an increasingly pronounced storage orientation, from Dave Donatelli on down.

Cisco, meanwhile, remains a networking company. It will try to imbue as much intelligence (and account control) as possible into the network infrastructure, even though it might be packaged under the Unified Computing Systems (UCS) moniker. That might not be a bad bet, but Cisco really doesn’t have a choice. It doesn’t own storage, is a relative neophyte in servers, and doesn’t have Oracle’s database or application pedigree.

Dell’s Move

IBM and Dell will be interesting to watch. Dell clearly places a lot of emphasis on owning its own storage technology. It has its own storage offerings right up through the midrange of the market, and it tried hard to buy 3PAR before being denied by a determined HP, which had its own reasons for winning that duel.

Questions remain over the importance Dell attaches to networking. We should learn soon enough whether Dell will continue to partner, with Juniper and Brocade, or whether it will buy its way into the market. To the extent that Dell continues to maintain its networking partnerships, the company effectively will be saying that it deems networking a secondary priority in its data-center strategy. IBM already seems to have made that determination, though there’s always a possibility it will revisit its earlier decision.

This puts Juniper in an interesting position. It needs to continue to push toward its Project Stratus intelligent flat network, thereby enhancing its value to customers and its importance to Dell and IBM as a partner. Brocade faces a similar challenge in storage networking, though it still seems to have a lot of work ahead of it in repositioning the Ethernet-switching portfolio it obtained through its acquisition of Foundry Networks.

Microsoft Pays for Inattentiveness

I have not mentioned Microsoft. VMware threw down a gauntlet of sorts earlier this week when it suggested that the importance of Windows as an operating system had been undercut severely by the rise of virtualization. For the most part, I agree with that assessment. Microsoft has some big challenges ahead of it, and it has been attempting to distract us from its shortcomings by talking a lot about its cloud vision. But a vision, no matter how compelling, is thin gruel if it is not supported by follow through and execution. In virtualization, Microsoft was caught flat-footed, its gaze averted by commotion outside the data center and the enterprise, and it is paying a steep price for that inattentiveness now.

Even though marketing hype has pivoted and tilted toward the cloud, virtualization continues to recast the data center.