Tibco Silver, VMware and the Sales Pitch I’ve Heard Before

Earlier in the week, I was at the London Tibco Now event to see the new version of their BPM system. While there, I couldn’t resist visiting the Tibco Silver booth in the demo area to see some of their cloud computing applications in action.

Silver looked to be an impressive product that Tibco added to their portfolio with the acquisition of DataSynapse over a year ago but I am in no way qualified to opine on the technical shortcomings or strengths on the product.

What I found interesting was the sales pitch.

The Pitch

Silver allows companies to put their applications into containers and deploy them where they have computing capacity. Silver is not a virtualization technology like VMware, it is a cloud deployment technology that works at the middleware or application level.

Nevertheless, I found the sales pitch eerily similar to a VMware sales pitch from several years ago. Let’s go through some of the points:

  • Higher Utilization of Physical Servers – Whereever you have spare capacity, Silver will let you deploy applications there to sweat your assets harder. Although Silver works different from VMware, increased utilization of your existing hardware is probably the core of the virtualisation business case.

  • Ease of Deployment / Seamless Support for Development and Test Environments – Silver has a self-service portal that allows authorized users to launch new instances of any container configured in the system without having to worry about the physical capacity of the hardware or the configuration of the system. VMware acquired Akimbi in July 2006 to add the same functionality to their product line.

  • Managed Service – Tibco Silver can be purchased from Colt Telcom as a managed service and capacity can be added to your Silver environment from Amazon EC2 as required.

    Obviously, VMware isn’t helping you put virtual machines in Amazon but the selling point is otherwise the same. In fact, purchasing VMware virtual machines from data centres operators is almost standard operating procedure these days. Colt, for example, also sells virtual servers based on VMware technology.

  • Monitoring and Automated Provisioning – Silver monitors all the running application containers and let you deploy more instances or terminate instances as required. Again, part of the standard VMware pitch.

Basically, I left a ten-minute demonstration of the product really impressed by what I saw but also slightly confused about the differences between Silver and established virtualization products.

Cloud Market Developments

We are still in an era of technological development and market experimentation in cloud computing standards and business models. The future is being built in the present and so there are some things about the Silver sales pitch worth considering:

  • The Market will Mature – While competing technologies are the norm today, in the future cloud services at the Infrastructure (IaaS) or platform (PaaS) level will settle around a set of open standards or a dominant technology player. I will write a longer post in the future about why the market will develop this way but the problem for Tibco is that the language of the cloud is being driven by the virtualization market.

    I’m not just talking about VMware, by the way.

    In Amazon EC2, you purchase machine images, not application containers. The fact that the machine images can be purchased with operating systems and applications pre-installed on them only makes the substitution effect in these markets more pronounced. The IaaS and PaaS markets will not develop separately. Tibco needs to appreciate this dynamic when developing the product strategy behind Silver.

  • Product Differentiation is Critical – If you are going to be successful, your product has to do something that the competition doesn’t do. The question used to be ‘Is the cloud a legitimate choice for my business?’ but increasingly the question is ‘What kind of cloud is right for me?’ In that context, customers and potential customers need to understand what makes you special.

  • Marketing and Market Share also Matter – Your technology is irrelevant if no one knows about it and eventually the market will coalesce around a handful of providers with existing market share. Just ask the betamax guys.

Although Silver was an impressive product, the cloud marketplace is evolving quickly and not necessarily in their direction. If Tibco wants to own part of this market, it needs to sharpen its knives. It’s game time.