Management guru Tom Peters once said, if it's high tech, it's got to be high touch.
In the past two months, three of the biggest IT networking suppliers have brought intriguing options to market for processing and transporting information. But their positioning statements reflect differing views of the future that make picking the right one for your organisation tougher, and which may make "softer" issues as important as technical issues.
Cisco has virtually bet the company on the belief that video will dominate network traffic, and has research to back its view.
Whether or not it is correct about video, at a more basic level, it is correct that the traffic volumes are growing. Some of this is due to video traffic, with growing amounts going to mobile terminals or smartphones. But the amount of data traffic from sensors and other remote devices (the "internet of things") is also rising.
So Cisco's basic proposition, that CIOs will have to manage lots more data in future, is probably correct in concept, if not necessarily in detail. That will put a premium on processing speeds and network manageability for all.
But Cisco CEO John Chambers says security may pose the biggest threat to IT operations. So Cisco is taking "an architectural approach" to the problem. Chambers promises to release an open roadmap of its security plan, written "from the ground up", in the next few months.
Just how open this turns out remains to be seen. After years of cooperation, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco have been taking divergent paths on standards in recent times, according to HP Networking CTO, Paul Congdon.
Sticking to standards
HP is staking its ground on accepted industry standards. At the recent launch of several announcements regarding storage management, wireless access and apps in a box, HP's David Campbell was at pains to stress that HP believes in and executes on industry standards. The new kit from HP has "no proprietary silicon", he says, and argues that sticking to standards allows HP and its customers to benefit from faster and more certain innovation under the standards umbrella.
"The best-of-breed solution was right 20 years ago," he says. "Today it's all about standards."
Although the launch was low key, it was remarkable for the way HP positioned it. "We aim to be the service providers' service provider," says Campbell.
Which suggests that HP believes CIOs will come increasingly to view their role as providing IT-as-a-service to their employer organisations. In this scenario, CIOs take responsibility for providing best service at most competitive cost, and possibly even competing with third-party service providers (SPs) for some of the enterprise's processing load.
This is clearly the thinking behind the integration of 3PAR utility storage across the HP Converged Infrastructure. This allows CIOs and external service providers alike to buy features such as automated storage tiering to improve performance, and "thin storage" to eliminate over-provisioning in virtualised cloud environments.
HP also announced it could now supply Microsoft's Exchange messaging service prepacked in a blade server, with prices starting at $35,900 for 500 mailboxes. HP would not comment on what other applications it would supply "in a box", but the potential for prepacked plug-and-play apps should intrigue CIOs and SPs.
Bang for bucks
While Cisco is pitching video and security, and HP is focusing on standards, Juniper Networks seems to be pitching bang for bucks. Its new QFabric, is a flat datacentre management system that offers up to 10 times faster processing, uses 77% less power, needs 27% fewer networking devices, occupies 90% less floor space, and cuts operating resources nine-fold compared with comparable Cisco configurations, according to Anjan Venkataramini, vice-president of Juniper's fabric and switching group.
So while the industry's technology spiral has turned another revolution, CIOs have still to pick and choose the approach that will satisfy their increasingly demanding clients.
It is probable that all the above approaches will do the job. So in the end, the decision may go the one that best mirrors the culture and philosophy of the customer.