New user group aims to take on the super vendors

When the Open Data Center Alliance was introduced last week, its leaders pointed out that the initial members represent “over $50 billion in collective IT spending.” The warning to IT vendors could not have been clearer.

The alliance is a new kind of user group.

Its 70 members aren’t focused on any one technology, and come from a wide range of industries. Initial members include automaker BMW, financial services firms USB, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase, hospitality company Marriott International, and energy company Shell.

The IT organizations at these companies face common problems, which include the continuing consolidation of IT industry, increasingly proprietary and highly integrated technology stacks and cloud environments that are creating new kinds of vendor lock-in.

The alliance isn’t publishing specifications or standards, but it will write roadmaps and use cases that look at broad business IT needs, such as interoperability, cross-platform management capabilities, and ability to move infrastructure and applications from from cloud to cloud .

Then the group will urge tech vendors to plan products around the needs.

“Consolidation is continuing at a rapid pace. Start-ups get bought early on in their lifecycle and never get to become big competitors to any of these guys,” said Andrew Feig, the global head of financial services firm UBS’s Technology Advisory Group, referring to large vendors that are increasingly dominating the IT industry.

In fact, Gartner recently warned that “super vendors,” are starting to emerge from the industry consolidation.

If the broad trend continues, Feig warned, users will see increasingly integrated products that close off options that could otherwise speed adoption of new technology.

The alliance, said Feig, wants its companies to have technology choices “and the ability to really run our business the way we want versus being told how to run it.”

The Open Data Center Alliance runs counter to the long-term trend of user groups, which have been largely shrinking or are tightly integrated with specific vendors, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata.

“We really lack powerful user organizations in this industry,” said Eunice.

Eunice believes the alliance has potential to become a powerful user group. Its creation was likely encouraged in part by social media, which has led to more collaboration, openness and new attitudes about appropriate levels of sharing, he added.

Use of cloud platforms and services such as Salesforce, have also lead the acceptance of shared infrastructure, Eunice said.

Curt Auble, vice president of cybersecurity amd NextGen Innovations at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services, said he sees some “amazing capabilities” developing on the Web. However, he added, if a developer “needs to move applications that they develop on one cloud platform to another cloud platform they are in essence rewriting that application.”

The vendors encourage feedback and want to be responsive to customer demands, said Auble, who is the alliance president. With the alliance, vendors will “get that feedback in a more unified fashion.”

The alliance also includes IT infrastructure services providers, such as Terremark Worldwide.

Martin Wheeler, Terremark’s chief strategy officer, said his firm doesn’t make hardware or software, but has to work with both users and IT vendors. CIOs are playing key roles in helping user companies create new sources of revenues, and to deal with new technologies like cloud services that are seeing hockey stick-like growth rates.

“We got to start having an organized voice so all these tremendous technological advances can be organized in a meaningful way,” said Wheeler, who is the alliance’s chairman and secretary.

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