A while back I blogged about appliances, and where I thought the market is headed. Please bear in mind that I frequently like to place myself into the future and attempt to see what will happen overall. Also bear in mind that frequently my definitions are slightly different than the common industry. As it so happens, I had the opportunity to look at and research Appliances going forward. I'd like to draw attention to the appliances in the market space and try in a couple entries or so, to help define the terms more clearly, and level the expectations of what customers may be seeing out there.
Appliances are everywhere, refrigerators, toasters, ovens, dishwashers, printers/scanners/faxers/copiers, DVD/CD players, MP3 players, cell phones (that are more than cell phones), and on and on and on. So that brings us to the IT sector and the definition of appliance. What does it mean? How should we define it? Where are the boundaries? When I look to purchase an "appliance" what should I be concerned with?
These are all questions (I'm sure there are many more) that I will attempt to answer going forward. In fact, on the cover of my latest CRN magazine, the storage standoff article: "May 22, 2006", the quote on the cover goes a little like this:
NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven prepares to take on EMC end-to-end with the launch of its first SMB product, a storage appliance priced starting at $5,000 that will combine NAS, iSCSI and, ultimately, fiber channel.
So what IS an appliance?
That's a tough definition - an appliance in the kitchen may be something that has dials and buttons, timers, and thermometers - and helps you cook or bake or toast. In the IT world, the definition of APPLIANCE is very very gray. There really isn't a clear definition of just what an appliance is. Particlarly if you look to IBM, Teradata, Oracle, Db2 UDB or other database vendors. Or how about fire-wall vendors, are those devices "appliances"? If they qualify as appliances, then we have to step back and re-think just what an appliance might be.
In my fog of concentration, I've decided that (and you may not agree - in which case, I would love to hear your comments) APPLIANCE is really a class, an organization or a hierarchy of items. At least for Business Intelligence and data warehousing, the appliance class can be broken down into hardware, and platforms. From there, it can be broken down further - hardware can include storage, networking, security, etc... Software is really a part of platforms, the platforms combine hardware and software for a "white or black box" that can be purchased and plugged in to the enterprise.
AHHH Plugged-in... What the heck does that mean?
Well, plugged in is simply where we start, from there are different sub-classes of PLATFORM APPLIANCES that include: scalability, management, maintenance, setup, enterprise class hardware parts, off the shelf hardware parts, service levels, self-monitoring, MPP abilities, NUMA Clustering abilities, and self configuration levels.
Ok, so when a vendor says: Plug in-and-play it may not necessarily be true?
Right. Sometimes the "platform appliance" requires tuning, configuration, manual manipulation. Other times the appliance really is plug-and-play into the network; it all depends on how much effort a vendor is willing to put into the engineering of their products and services.
There's a difference?
Yes, there's a difference between world-class "platform appliances" and SMB "platform appliances". World class would mean reduced mean-time-between-failure (MTBF), increased scalability (into the hundreds of terabytes) with little to no administration, world-class hardware (higher quality, higher price, more support from the vendor, and longer life-span). Sometimes off-the-shelf parts in an SMB appliance mean unsupported integration to a newer version of the platform. Remember that platform includes the hardware behind the scenes.
Example: an SMB who may stay small (say sells jewelry locally) in terms of data set, may not be able nor want to purchase a world-class "platform appliance", but may want the lower-end cheaper components. They may not need 24x7x365 uptime, nor could afford it. Yet, an international jewelry outfit may scale their data into the hundreds of terabytes, while they may start small, it doesn't mean they'll stay small. If their growth pattern can afford world-class parts, so be it.
For example, would you buy a $400 toaster for your daily toasting in your kitchen? How about a $1200 toaster or a $3000 commercial toaster they use in the hotels for feeding hundreds of guests every day? I wouldn't spend more than $120 for a toaster that might last a year or two, then buy another one when the low-end toasters have improved in quality.
My points are as follows:
* Appliances aren't always what they seem
* Appliances are a class of components; I see them more as platforms which include software, hardware, services, support, and up-time.
* Platforms are more apt to be the proper term, just because I buy a server, throw a database engine on it, and make it "available" through an API - doesn't necessarily make it an appliance.
Finally, if I look out three to five years - in all reality the customer wants more plug-and-play with higher quality and higher class parts, services will be the value-add, and self-monitoring, self-configuration will be expected to be a part of the package - not to mention scalability. Do I call this an "Appliance"? Yes - but it's an Enterprise Class Appliance, Is it really an Appliance? No - it is most likely a pre-configured enterprise class platform solution. Can a customer call it an appliance? Possibly, but I really don't care if they call it ham and cheese, or French toast. They can label it however they wish.
I still feel there is no true or single definition of what an appliance is or should be. I'd love to hear from you, how do you define "Appliance" or "Platform" in your industry?
Posted May 29, 2006 10:10 AM
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