Datacenters Buy More IT in Chunks, Not Pieces

Sales of integrated infrastructure leaped 108 percent between 3Q 2012 and 2013.

Standalone datacenter racks dedicated to servers, storage or networking will have to share more floor space with bundled packages of all three, according to a new study that found spending on integrated infrastructure products grew 68.5 percent during the third quarter compared to 2012.

Integrated systems that allow datacenter managers to purchase datacenter capacity in chunks – rather than having to assemble the chunks on their own by purchasing all the components separately and installing them in different parts of the datacenter – can make running datacenters simpler and offer good bang for the buck, according to a market-performance study published Dec. 23 by IDC.

Oddly, considering that much of the value in integrated systems comes from having the vendor integrate the hardware and software ahead of time (so the customer doesn’t have to), sales of less-optimized, less-function-specific packages grew far more quickly than more specialized versions, the report showed.

While both integrated platform systems and integrated infrastructure systems include hardware, storage, networking and basic systems/network management software, integrated platforms also come pre-integrated with (and optimized for) specific databases, applications or development tools.

Sales of integrated platforms grew 14.2 percent during the third quarter, compared to the same period during 2012. Oracle is the leading seller of integrated platforms, with market share of 45.6 percent, according to IDC.

Integrated infrastructure systems are also pre-integrated, but are set up as general-purpose datacenter building blocks that can handle any workload thrown at them. Sales of those systems grew 108.6 percent between the third quarters of 2012 and 2013 – thirteen times faster than sales of integrated platforms.

While most datacenter work falls into that category, buying, integrating and deploying general-purpose hardware is far less complex than optimizing the same hardware for a specific set of applications. In theory, shouldn’t that reduce the value of pre-integrated systems that support general-purpose virtual-server farms, compared to integrated platforms that support transaction processing, legacy applications or other specialized workloads?

Not so, according to IDC storage analyst Eric Sheppard. Convenience has value even when the integration work a vendor takes off the customer’s hands is less complex than configuring, say, a giant retailer’s 40-million-customer database platform just before the holiday season rush.

“The strong growth in the integrated systems market has become a real bright spot within the IT industry,” Sheppard said in an IDC statement announcing the study. “Server, storage, and networking vendors have clearly created a set of offerings that resonate very well with datacenter operators looking for the next level of infrastructure efficiency for their highly virtualized environments.”

The biggest-selling brand of integrated infrastructure systems is VCE – an integrator formed by networking market leader Cisco Systems, Inc. and storage giant EMC, with investments from Intel Corp. and VMware, in 2009.

Its Vblock Systems come in hundreds of pre-configured packages of varying sizes and capacities.

VCE holds 16.8 percent share of the overall integrated infrastructure/integrated platforms market, followed by Cisco and its competitor NetApp, which tied with 15.4 percent market share. EMC is third with 14.6 percent; Oracle holds fourth place in the combined market, with 13.1 percent, followed by IBM with 12.3 percent.

By far the largest single chunk of market share belongs to Others, with 27.7 percent.

“IDC expects integrated systems to be on many customers’ radar during purchasing cycles in 2014,” according to Jed Scaramella, IDC Enterprise Servers analyst.