CHICAGO -- IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft are doing a lousy job of explaining their on-demand strategy to the user community, according to experts.
Whether they're ambiguous on purpose or just having a difficult time articulating the concept is unclear. What is obvious, however, is that many data center managers still don't get it.
And only the really secure ones will admit it.
Carl Hoessrich, a data center manager with CCH, a Riverwoods, Ill.-based provider of workflow tools for tax professionals, admitted that although he hears a lot about on-demand computing and has an idea what it is, he wouldn't stand in front of a crowd of his peers and try to explain it.
"I don't have that level of confidence in my understanding," he said.
Tom Kucharvy, president and research director at Summit Strategies Inc. of Boston, has an idea why this state of perplexity continues to exist among data center managers.
Listen to the four vendors explain their on-demand strategy and you'll walk away with four different versions of what it is, said Kucharvy, who spoke Thursday at the Data Center Decisions 2004 conference.
"The biggest deterrence is the vendors themselves," he said. "They're over-hyping their capabilities."
Unfortunately, for all the vendor hype, particularly from IBM, it's something that is a long way from being fully realized. In other words, users can't grasp something that isn't there.
"It's clear that users just want to get beyond the concept and get into making it happen," said Kucharvy.
The four major server vendors each have their own definition of what IBM has dubbed on-demand computing.
To Hewlett-Packard, it's Adaptive Enterprise. Sun calls it utility computing and Microsoft refers to it as Dynamic Systems Initiative.
Although their approaches are somewhat different, the basic concept is the same.
In its most simplistic form, on-demand computing is a process by which companies pay as they go for hardware and software as capacity requirements change. But even though utility computing is an integral part of on-demand strategy, the concept goes much further to look at how organizations can align key business processes internally and externally with partners to eliminate red tape and save time and money.
To say on-demand isn't tangible, is not entirely true, however. In fact, many companies are implementing real on-demand technology -- most of them in the form of virtualization, a major component of on-demand.
Smart companies, however, are implementing on-demand incrementally.
"This is an evolutionary process," Kucharvy said.
Gordon Petersen, a data center manager at Emory University in Atlanta, didn't get it, but does now -- or at least he thinks he does.
"I think that's what we were doing all the time," said Petersen. "We never called it [on-demand]; we just implemented it that way."
According to Kucharvy, vendors are pushing on-demand because they honestly believe that IT organizations are more effective using this approach to computing. They're intent on making IT an enabler and not an inhibitor to the business.
"On-demand addresses IT's most pressing needs," he said. "But, for all the promise, there are still a lot of barriers."
Despite the obvious benefits of such business and technological alignment, the concept has its share of naysayers. A recent International Data Corp. report that made predictions for 2004 referred to utility computing as "Futility Computing." According to IDC, excitement over the idea is based on a lot of marketing hype, and that significant investments in the technology will remain modest.
Critics said that what typically happens when something is over-hyped is that upper management reads about it, thinks it's cool and something they must have to be competitive. Then, they want the IT department to implement it.
For some shops, taking baby steps is not an option.
"We're going to back into on-demand," said John Muench, supervisor of technology support, CF Industries Inc., Long Grove, Ill. "The businesses want it and they're going to force us into it. Ready or not."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor