Provisionings Promise

Full hardware provisioning is on the not-too-distant horizon, and full software provisioning might not be far behind.

The folks in marketing want to develop a direct mail campaign that can target with pinpoint precision certain households, certain income levels and certain geographies. They want to know the likelihood of success, and they want to know the exact costs and make sure all the right stuff gets mailed. And, by the way, they came up with the idea at 8 a.m. today and want it completed by noon.

The assembling and integration of that data and the production of that direct mail campaign used to make a one-day, one-week or, in most cases, a one-month time frame for such a project impossible. But the other day, during a stop to speak with Stephen Webster, chief operating officer of Tactician, I saw a demonstration of the companys geographic information system that made a believer out of me. The combination of geographic data, business process rules, Web-based access and visualization software is making point-and-click provisioning of direct mail (and, by extension, Web-based campaigns) possible.

While not a full implementation of the software-oriented architecture model, which draws on bits and pieces of software from many sources to build an application on the fly, the Tactician model provides an example of applications speeding up once-cumbersome business processes. As I headed off to the voting booth after the demo at Tactician, I wondered how long it will be before the political parties become as adept as consumer goods companies at narrowly targeting a very specific message. I predict that this will be the case before long, certainly by the next election in four years.

And if software provisioning is so close, can hardware provisioning be far behind? In fact, according to Bill Coleman, full hardware provisioning will be here before full software provisioning. Coleman—the founding CEO of BEA Systems, former head of Suns professional services and software development, and now CEO of Cassatt—has a reason to champion the concept of computing resources on demand. Computer resource provisioning is widely expected to be the business Cassatt will enter when it announces its first product next month. But Colemans successful track record also shows that he is worth listening to when he says hardware provisioning will come a lot sooner than many industry executives expect.

In Colemans vision, the specifics of a companys underlying computing resources are masked behind a system administration and allocation layer. Rather than overprovisioning for possible demand, the system allocates processor, storage and network resources as required. "The end result is a dramatic drop in capital expenditures and operating expenditures and improvement in quality of service when you can adapt in real time to a business process," Coleman told me in a telephone interview.

But wait—isnt that type of provisioning on the fly the same thing that IBM has promised in its on-demand initiative and HP in its adaptive enterprise discussion? While that is what those two companies have promised, they have yet to deliver on a system that is truly independent of the underlying hardware infrastructure, that can manage a mix of hardware resources and that doesnt have the unfortunate attribute of adding complexity to a process it was supposed to simplify, noted Coleman. Application servers were pioneered by Coleman and BEA and removed the complexity of distributing applications across the enterprise. The idea was so good that major operating system vendors incorporated the server into the operating system. The same situation could happen in hardware, but that would take much longer to develop.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs automated-provisioning technology for on-demand computing.

While Coleman doesnt expect full software provisioning to emerge before the end of the decade, he expects that the hardware provisioning promise will be kept and will come to fruition sooner, driven forward by the needs of some specific market segments, including the capital and government markets. Those business segments have substantial capacity needs and—the government markets, in particular—limited budgets in support of those requirements. While service-oriented software applications have been getting a lot of attention, the hardware side of the equation may be the first to win this race.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

/zimages/7/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.