I enjoyed reading Chris Mellor's recent ramblings on "Converged Stacks Will Retard Storage Innovation".
He makes a plausible argument: the rapid shift to converged and integrated infrastructures (e.g. VCE Vblocks) will make it harder for the erstwhile small startup to play, and thus hamper an important source of innovation in the storage industry.
After thinking about it for a while, I've decided precisely the opposite is likely to be true -- and here's why.
Before We Begin
If you've been following the IT infrastructure discussion recently, converged infrasructure is all the rage. By pre-integrating next-gen technologies and operational workflows, enterprise customers and service providers can get cloud-like benefits without having to build it themselves, and individually support the piece parts.
It is a powerful and compelling argument, and it's winning over more IT decision makers every day.
But, on the other side of the fence, there's an inherent strong desire from the technologists to be able to freely choose among the best technologies available -- even if that means vastly more effort in selection, qualification, integration, support, migration, etc.
Let's Consider A Recent Example In Consumer Technology
Quick: what was the single most impactful consumer technology of 2010?
You'd probably say "iPad" without much hesitation. It could arguably be described as a converged ecosystem -- Apple defines the pieces, and how they're going to work together. 15 million iPads later, it's pretty obvious that Apple found a market where people cared more about *using* the technology vs. building it themselves.
Did the iPad stifle innovation? Hardly. Dig deep, and you'll find a decent amount of innovation in the various components: processor, battery, operating system -- even the glass used. More innovation comes from the way the pieces are integrated to create a delightful user experience. And even more innovation can be found in the vibrant application ecosystem that's sprung up as a result.
Let's go a bit farther. Due to iPad's success, literally billions of R&D dollars are being poured into competitive alternatives -- think Andriod et. al. We'll likely see oodles of innovation as a result of all that money being spent. Or, at least, I would hope so :)
Let's go even further -- as a result of iPad's user model, we've started to think of applications very differently than twelve short months ago -- and that includes enterprise applications as well. I could argue we're witnessing the beginning of the end for the traditional "desktop" -- how much innovation will result if this becomes true?
Did Apple stifle innovation with the iPad, or unleash an entirely new source of innovation in the process? I know which side of that question I'd argue ...
OK, So Vblocks Aren't iPads ...
Analogies only go so far, but I think I've made my point: converged infrastructure -- like their consumer equivalents -- can not only shift the focus of innovation, but greatly increase its quantity as well.
In the case of a Vblock, those of us who are close to it are routinely dazzled by the innovative potential of the new, converged platform. By simply knowing the context of each technological component (e.g. storage), much more is possible with the technology.
And, for our customers, the ability to shift IT resource spending from building and maintaining infrastructure, to using it in more clever ways -- well, that's an important source of innovation as well, isn't it?