This week, IBM introduced its first two IT management appliances targeted at small and medium businesses. These first two solutions are part of a family that will eventually cover all the IT management needs of an enterprise, and cover availability and performance (IBM Tivoli Foundations Application Manager) and service desk IT services (IBM Tivoli Foundations Service Manager). The benefits expected are a rapid deployment at a lower cost due to the inclusion of automated configuration and deployment solutions. by itself, this is not really new and neither is it a complete revolution. Years ago, Oculan (now part of Raritan) and off shout of the Open NMS effort, presented a network management appliance for SMBs, with a similar strategy: sell exclusively through partners who can add their own flavor of services to the solution.
Beyond the technology, I find that this announcement is another signal of things to come in IT. IBM, years ago (in 1975 if I remember correctly) started the software revolution by unbundling software from hardware on its mainframes. This was a signal that the process of building hardware was now entering a phase of reduced costs and increased competition leading to thinner margins, which could no longer sustain the cost of software. We then entered a spiral which saw the emergence of Moore's law, by which the density of transistors on a chip doubled every 18 months. This continuous process improvement lead to an exponential decline of hardware prices starting in the late 80s. Of course, because hardware resources became abundant and cheap, software started to follow the same route: the number and size of applications followed their own version of Moore's law.
We are now facing another issue: as the hardware development process continues to improve, and the software development process follows suit, the ancillary processes of deploying, operating and maintaining all these technologies are becoming a burden on IT budgets, and are in fact slowing down the whole technology adoption process. The next issue we are facing is one of human resources in IT operations, and it will only be solved by a continuous improvement of the global IT process, first by rationalization (ITIL, ISO, etc.), then by automation of the rationalized processes.
Technology has of course a role to play in this overall march to process improvement. Virtualization, automation, integration of disciplines into cloud computing, all will participate in the operational cost reduction.
I see IBM Tivoli's announcement as an important signal towards this transformation of IT towards the manufacturing equivalent of mass production: delivering a ready to consume technology rather than parts that the user has to assemble. I see this as the future of IT. It will take years until this is fully adopted and IT operation transforms from a cottage industry into a rational factory, but eventually this is where we are going. The fact that IBM, with all its might, brand and reputation goes in this direction is a validation of the IT factory future.