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Pre-Integrated Airplanes

Posted by pbrittan on September 10, 2003 at 11:01 AM PDT

If the IT industry wants to be more like other, mature manufacturing industries, then large vendors need to be willing and able to integrate and resell software components as easily as they do hardware parts.

We’re exhibiting at Oracle World in San Francisco this week. Yesterday, I watched Scott McNealy give a keynote address. It was as entertaining as always.

One of the points he made, which I have heard him make before, is that corporate America treats its data center is as if travel depended on our own personal airplanes that we each built from scratch. Scott argues that every data center is unique and custom built, despite the fact that the needs companies have from their data centers are fairly universal. For air travel, of course, no one builds their own airplanes from scratch. There are manufacturers, like Boeing and Airbus, who do that. And there are even airlines that own the airplanes and just rent us a seat when we need them.

This idea -- that the computing industry needs to become more like other, mature industries in which each customer is not expected to roll their own -- is very powerful. But for that to happen, the large vendors who set themselves up as the manufacturers and airlines need to have a more fluid relationship with component software vendors than now exists.

When Sun builds server hardware, they buy sheet metal, bolts, wires, electronic components, disk drives, power supplies, etc., from a host of suppliers, just as airplane manufacturers do. Sun assembles all these components into the boxes they sell. Sun is an OEM reseller of all those bolts and wires. This is a very well understood and practiced model on the hardware side. If Sun had to manufacture its own wires and bolts in order to build a server, our industry would be held back terribly.

But a server, especially one that is meant to be a complete solution for a customer (like a finished airplane) is far more than the hardware. It is at least as much about the software that is installed on the server.

At this point, many of the large IT vendors, like Sun, profess an explicit hesitation to bundle and resell third party software. So, a major vendor either has to supply all the software on the server, which is akin to manufacturing its own bolts and wires and power supplies, or it cannot offer a complete solution, i.e. the customer still has to bolt on some additional components in order to make the airplane flight-worthy.

If Scott’s vision for IT is to become reality, and it does seem right, then large vendors need to be willing and able to integrate and resell software components in their systems as easily as they do hardware parts.

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