Room at the Top for a Big Four?
Hill said he believes there's room for more large, full-service systems vendors at the top.
"Even though the IT infrastructure pool as a whole is much larger than the database management systems and networking pools, it is still quite large," Hill said. "The resulting even fiercer competition that would result would be good for customers, from both a cost perspective and the chance to benefit from the innovation that the companies would have to accelerate."
However, customers would have to face a much more complex decision-making process and the vendor that can hold a conversation at the highest executive levels and effectively communicate its value proposition is likely to be the winner, Hill said.
"It is too early to handicap the winners and losers right now. Moreover, even though it is not a 'systems' vendor EMC has a broad reach in information infrastructure and has to be considered a player in the horse race," Hill said.
Would having four IT systems behemoths be a boost to the IT industry, or would four companies the scale and scope of HP and IBM be too many -- such that somebody is doomed to fail?
"I've always thought that healthy competition has been at the heart if the IT industry's historic vibrancy," King of Pund-IT said. "The industry has matured rapidly, resulting in a certain stodginess among some (though not all) of the traditional larger players. Overall, I believe the additional competition should help keep everyone honest. If the future really is in cloud and 'smarter planet' computing, the market should be big enough for everyone."
As far as failure goes, both Oracle and Cisco are playing out of their traditional comfort zones, King said.
"However, I'd say that Oracle has had more trouble that Cisco in managing its myriad acquisitions. The company's bitten off a big piece with Sun Microsystems. Whether they digest it successfully or choke in the process in still playing out."
Mark Peters of Enterprise Strategy Group said he isn't particularly worried that having a large portion of the IT vendoring in the world done by a handful of companies is necessarily a bad thing.
"Let's say we do end up with four behemoths? That could be good for the industry (and innovation and consumers) even if one is doomed to fail!" Peters said. "Plus, they each do things differently: There's the acquire route, the R&D route, the partner route, et cetera, so smaller organizations are not necessarily ruled out.
"By the way, don't forget Dell in your market equation, and even the possibilities from smaller organizations such as EMC with its VMware, that aspires to be 'IT central' and can be a force. Interestingly companies like Microsoft often get mentions for strategic importance and could easily partake in an infrastructure play.
"And there's always the surprises, too (such as Google)."