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Commoditization economics and emerging workloads disrupt the data center landscape

Commoditization mitigation strategies require business model shifts and an ever-watchful eye on exascale cloud entrants

Volume or value?

Toward the end of 2018 in the data center market, two distinct vendor strategies emerged: Vendors began either increasing sales volume or selling lower-volume but higher-value solutions. TBR believes that in 1H19, now that vendors have determined their camps, they will begin to craft competitive strategies directly targeting specific peers. For example, Dell EMC has publicly stated its intent to increase its market share in both servers and storage, and we believe the vendor will target key competitors to gain this share. Similarly, Lenovo’s large-scale data center investments imply significant competitive goals.

In February Lenovo unveiled TruScale Infrastructure Services. This directly competes with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) GreenLake and Dell EMC’s Cloud Flex. It also addresses customer demand for private cloud infrastructure that is financed like a public cloud offering. TruScale is available for Lenovo’s entire stack of data center infrastructure solutions. In April Lenovo unveiled a server portfolio refresh, which likely reinforces its TruScale solutions and increases its competitive edge against Dell EMC and HPE.

TBR believes that during the next few months, Dell EMC and HPE will fight back against Lenovo’s marketing tactics to preserve market share. HPE has an advantage in that it is pursuing value-centric data center sales, so it is likely willing to concede less-profitable sales to Lenovo or Dell EMC. Dell EMC’s stated objective to increase market share in servers and storage will increase competition between the company and Lenovo as both aim to scoop up HPE’s lower-margin customers.

ODM participation heats up as commoditization drives provisioning simplicity

Because data center hardware becomes increasingly commoditized as software capabilities become more advanced, we believe data center vendors will increasingly find themselves competing against ODMs, especially for larger deals. Smaller customers will still show a preference for OEMs as they need the additional software and services provided with OEM data center solutions. Lenovo’s manufacturing capabilities give the company an advantage in the hyperscale space, where Lenovo’s past financials illustrated some successes, and enable the vendor to differentiate from its OEM peers.

On the hyperscale front, ODMs are rising to dominance, but OEMs such as Lenovo remain a force to be reckoned with in the space. As cloud becomes an increasingly central piece of IT environments, public cloud providers seek ways to expand their environments as cost-effectively as possible to preserve profits. TBR believes very large enterprises are likely to explore leveraging hyperscale vendors as well for their on-premises environments if it is cost-effective.

Consumption-based pricing models tie to the commoditization march

TBR’s Hyperconverged Platforms Customer Research continues to highlight the correlation between private cloud installments and HCI. Most recent findings indicated that 80% of respondents leveraged their HCI purchase for a private or hybrid cloud environment. Since customers are already turning to HCI for cloud, it is a logical next step for vendors to price HCI like a public cloud solution to deepen the competition.

With their channel partners also engaged, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are the three main players in the consumption-based pricing space. Their solutions are not limited to just HCI, but HCI is one of the solutions that can be purchased in this manner. The key value proposition of consumption-based pricing for data center vendors is the ability to bundle software and services into hardware consumption-based deals. This is likely to boost the margin on the solutions. Further, it guarantees larger deals, as in many cases, these consumption-based pricing deals lock customers in for a predetermined duration that has early termination penalties.

Maturing offerings, vendors and customers prompt long-term IoT vendor growth

The continued interweaving of the technology component market with Internet of Things (IoT) techniques delivers a well-defined path to long-term sustained growth for many IT and operational technology (OT) vendors, especially those vendors that are best able to differentiate their portfolio and position themselves as critical partners for a wide set of IoT solutions.

The hype surrounding IoT has only served to confuse and overwhelm customers and vendors, but efforts by both parties to cut through the hype is driving the growth of installed IoT solutions. As the hype fades, vendors are better able to rationalize their go-to-market strategies and messaging, particularly around how to assemble IoT solutions, leading customers to better understand how to apply IoT.

However, while it is becoming easier to assemble an IoT solution, it is still challenging to design and implement the IoT technique. We don’t expect a huge explosion of revenue; IoT itself isn’t a “killer app,” but it will enable moderate and slowly accelerating revenue growth for the various components involved in an IoT solution.

In our 3Q18 reports and thought leadership, TBR will focus on three topics that we believe are currently the most impactful on the wider IoT ecosystem: the increasing maturity of the IoT technique, the growing consolidation of generic platforms, and how increasing commoditization around IoT is working in favor of economies of scale and enabling the growth of installed solutions.

IoT is growing up: Increased ecosystem maturity will lead to increased customer adoption

TBR, through discussions with vendors and customers as well as our use case databasing, is noticing growth in installed IoT solutions, whether from net-new deployments or expansions of existing IoT deployments, signaling improved maturity. IoT maturation is not so much about the components of IoT as it is about businesses developing their ability to leverage technologies and techniques that are increasingly applicable to a growing number of business problems.

A major driver of this maturity is greater clarity around IoT techniques, led largely by go-to-market realignment and improved messaging by vendors, organization around IoT by customers, shifts from competition to coopetition by vendors, and general improvements in the construction of the technology that facilitate advanced usage of the IoT technique.