Stack computing is not stacking up for many CIOs.
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Top-tier vendors, most notably Oracle Corp. and IBM, are promoting the cost savings from integrated stacks made up of powerful, multicore servers with built-in storage, networking, databases, virtualization and other mission-critical applications. Few IT shops, nevertheless, see the short- or long-term benefits of stack computing.
In fact, some C-level executives believe stacks, particularly those with a decidedly proprietary flavor, only introduce new problems.
"The problem [with stacks] is the proprietary software that comes with the hardware and how it works with your legacy software. So now, you have two potential problems: getting both the new hardware and software to work with your infrastructure. I think it is more eggs up in the air than most people want to deal with," said Jon Nam, director of technology at Macy's Inc. in New York.
There are a couple of situations where the cost savings from spending deep into six figures for an all-in-one stack might pay off, according to Nam and others. Those are a company starting up or a large company forming a new division, where compatibility with legacy systems is not a major concern.
"I can see where it might be a great fit for a new operation, like a call center, that doesn't have to deal with existing infrastructure, because you can save a lot of money compared with buying all the components separately," Nam said.
Eugene Lee, an IT systems administrator with a national bank in Charlotte, N.C., agrees with Nam that for large shops with diverse heterogeneous environments, stack computing can cause more problems than it solves.
Software not keeping up
"We have looked at systems from Oracle and IBM, and like aspects of them, like the superfast drives, chips and flash memory. But if your existing software isn't fast enough to keep up with the speed of the new hardware, then you are just moving your bottleneck problems from the hardware to the software. It isn't a practical solution for us, given how much of our existing software we would have to upgrade," Lee said.
Some analysts see the price-performance value of integrated stacks, but believe their market opportunity is limited. If a larger shop commits to implementing one, sooner rather than later that shop must have a plan to connect it, not just to existing individual enterprise applications but with other strategic initiatives, such as private clouds or public clouds, and a number of virtualization strategies.
"Part of the problem is [that] Oracle and IBM haven't made it clear whether [stack computing] is a general computing architecture or a niche architecture. So, the question some [IT] executives are asking is, does this stack approach stay isolated for things like high-performance computing, or do you migrate it down to other workloads, like ERP[enterprise resource planning], that are tied in with private or hybrid clouds," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions Inc. in Gilford, N.H.
Three major trends are driving C-level executives to think more strategically about integrating stacks with other mission-critical architectures: the flood of Web-based content from mobile devices and social media applications, the need to support applications that work with both stacks and private or public clouds across a number of hosting environments, and a substantial increase in the number of virtualization solutions implemented on low-cost blade servers.
"These trends play off each other. The more interest you have in mobile devices, the more interest you have in cloud. The more interest you have in cloud, the more ability you have to deliver and receive content out to and from mobile devices. Data is exploding, and it is doing it outside of your databases and ERP systems," Gardner said.
Some users believe that the most efficient and economical approach is to outsource the care and feeding of integrating multiple architectures. They say an increasing number of systems integrators and managed services providers are looking hungrily for ways to expand new revenue streams, and they're armed with attractive pricing plans.
"I have been approached by a hoard of service providers, all claiming they can better manage my stack or private cloud from their co-lo [colocation] facility, and make it more than worth my while. I have to look hard at that, but one part of me says, why not let them figure out how to do the integration and all the hardware requirements," said Henry Jones, chief technology officer with Johnson Trucking Inc. in Houston.
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