New IT User Group Targets 'Super Vendors'

Open Data Center Alliance, which claims to collectively spend billions on IT, looks to fight vendor lock-in, tech consolidation

When the Open Data Center Alliance was introduced late last month, its leaders claimed that the initial 70-plus members represented "over $50 billion in collective IT spending." Their message to IT vendors was unmistakable.

Andrew Feig, global head of the technology advisory group at alliance member UBS, said the new association aims to help its members retain "the ability to really run our business the way we want, versus being told how to run it [by vendors]."

Thus the consortium will use its combined clout to, among other things, persuade technology companies to slow or halt several trends, including the move toward vendor lock-in in the cloud, the increase in the number of proprietary and highly integrated technology stacks, and the continuation of IT industry consolidation -- which alliance members cite as a key cause of the other problems they want to combat.

The worldwide alliance's membership includes major companies in a variety of industries that aren't focused on any one technology, including automaker BMW; financial services firms UBS, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase; hospitality company Marriott International; and energy supplier Shell Oil.

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., noted that the formation of the alliance runs counter to the trend of user groups shrinking in size and influence and becoming tightly integrated with specific vendors. "We really lack powerful user organizations in this industry," he said.

The alliance doesn't plan to publish specifications or standards, but it will create road maps and use cases that look at broad corporate IT needs, such as cross-platform management, interoperability and the ability to move infrastructure and applications from one cloud platform to another.

Then the group will use its hoped-for clout to urge tech vendors to plan products with those needs in mind.

Feig said many of the problems faced by large users can be traced to the persistent industry consolidation that is creating what Gartner Inc. calls "super vendors."

"Consolidation is continuing at a rapid pace," he said. "Start-ups get bought early on in their life cycle and never get to become big competitors to any of these guys."

Feig warned that without adequate recourse, companies that become excessively reliant on integrated products made by the big vendors will become less likely to adopt innovative new technologies.

Martin Wheeler, chief strategy officer at IT infrastructure services provider Terremark Worldwide Inc., and chairman and secretary of the alliance, added, "We've got to start having an organized voice so all these tremendous technological advances can be organized in a meaningful way."

Alliance President Curt Aubley, who is vice president of cybersecurity and next-generation innovations at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services, said he sees "amazing capabilities" developing on the Web. However, he added, if a developer "needs to move applications that they develop on one cloud platform to another cloud platform, they are in essence rewriting that application."

Vendors encourage feedback and want to be responsive to customer demands, said Aubley. The consortium will provide that feedback "in a more unified fashion," he explained. Eunice said the creation of the alliance was likely encouraged in part by social media, which has led to more collaboration, openness and new attitudes about cooperation between vendors and their customers.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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