A World Where Amazon Trumps Big Blue
June 5, 2014
It almost sounds like grandpa-talk to say "things have changed so much." Life is built from changes, and since our industry runs at a pace faster than almost every other, our rate of change is exemplary. There are long-held rules that are giving way, too.
Most of the HP 3000 managers remember the saying that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." It was an unfair advantage. Big Blue was the default IT choice for most of the 3000's lifespan as an HP product. But during the decade-plus since MPE started to vanish from Hewlett-Packard's mindscape, IT hosting and computing resource defaults have been reset. The changes are serious enough that Amazon trumped IBM on a $600 million project to build a compute center for the CIA.
Unlike the NSA (No Such Agency), the CIA exists and processes countless pieces of information. A story in BusinessWeek reported that the CIA wanted to build its own private cloud computing system. This is the type of IT project that would've been handled on the ground, not in the cloud, while HP was selling 3000s. A type of project IBM would've been a finalist in. Indeed, IBM finished in the top two. But IT pros now live in a world where buying compute power with a credit card is a valid strategy. The stakes were high for the winner.
For the bidders, more was at stake than a piece of the lucrative federal IT market. Whoever won the 10-year, $600 million contract could boast that its technology met the highest standards, with the tightest security, at the most competitive prices, at a time when customers of all kinds were beginning to spend more on data and analytics.
The CIA awarded the contract to Amazon.com. The e-commerce company had persuaded the spymasters that its public cloud could be replicated within the CIA’s walls. Amazon had been bleeding IBM for years—its rent-a-server-with-your-credit-card model was a direct threat to IBM’s IT outsourcing business—but this was different. Amazon beat IBM for a plum contract on something like its home turf, and it hadn’t done so simply by undercutting IBM on price. IBM learned that its bid was more than a third cheaper than Amazon’s and officially protested the CIA decision.
The 3000 community lives in a world where cloud computing is being selected for large-scale projects -- and it's being chosen from companies like Amazon who don't have the ballast to carry you'll see from HP, IBM, Dell or others. The servers, and the expertise to make them sparkle, work elsewhere. HP's got a cloud offering, as does IBM. But Amazon Web Services is way ahead of these classic server providers. IBM's gotten so far off the server sales strategy that it sold its low-end servers group to Lenovo.
To put it another way, IBM's selling as many small servers this year as HP is selling 3000s.
In the BusinessWeek story, the demise of IBM being fireproof got exploded. At least while going up against Amazon.
A federal judge agreed, ruling in October that with the “overall inferiority of its proposal,” IBM “lacked any chance of winning” the contract. The corporate cliché of the 1970s and ’80s, that no one ever got fired for buying IBM, had never seemed less true. IBM withdrew its challenge.