Does virtualization and cloud computing mean the end of branding as we know it? Or, does it just mean that branding changes somewhat, but remains largely unchanged?
Those questions are important to established vendors who have spent considerable time and resources building a brand. They’re also important to IT organizations who, while they may not buy based just on a company’s brand identity, have historically been influenced in the buying process by a product or service’s brand identity.
To put this into context, I am quite often impressed with the pride that I see on the faces and hear in the voices of people who are taking me on a tour of their data centers. In addition to trying to impress me with the scale of their data centers, they often express their pride in the equipment that they have. For example, as the tour progresses it is common for the tour leader to take time to highlight key pieces of their equipment such as their Cisco routers or their Palo Alto firewalls.
One of the cornerstones of this potential branding shift is the fact that the vast majority of IT organizations have virtualized at least some of their data center servers, and that trend will only intensify over the next few years. Initially, IT organizations used the virtual machines (VMs) to support test- and development-related applications, but by now most companies have expanded their use of server virtualization and now use VMs to support a range of business applications. They also use VMs to support functions that were once run strictly in a dedicated appliance. This includes performance related appliances such as WAN optimization controllers and application delivery controllers, as well as myriad security appliances, including firewalls as well as intrusion detection and intrusion protection systems. One thing this means is that on future data center tours I am less likely to see equipment that says Palo Alto and more likely to see equipment that says Dell or HP. The tour guide may well take time to identify the vendors of the software that is running on the server, but the impact will be less.
A bigger impact on branding is likely to come from the growing adoption of public cloud services such as those provided by Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers. My motivation for making this statement comes from the results of a survey that I conducted several months ago: I asked a couple of hundred IT professionals how important it was for network services such as WAN optimization and firewalls to be part of a cloud-based IaaS solution. Result? The vast majority (87+%) thought that each one of the seven network services that I identified in the survey question should be part of cloud based IaaS solutions. In the same survey I gave the respondents a set of criteria and asked which two were the most important criteria they used when evaluating the network services that are part of a cloud based IaaS solution. Having those services provided by a brand name vendor was only mentioned by 6% of the survey base.
So, has there been a fundamental shift in branding? Not yet, there hasn’t been, but it is easy to see where branding will mean somewhat less to IT organizations as they head down the path to implementing highly virtualized data centers. It is also easy to see where, on a going-forward basis, the brand value of a cloud-based IaaS solution will be based more on factors such as the performance of that solution and less on the name of the vendors that provide the enabling network services.