GroupWise. BlackBerry. Windows XP. The peak for these innovations has come and gone. Yet millions of customers use them every day. Due to compatibility issues and feature limitations, many organizations want to switch to other platforms. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce was of them.
When the nonprofit, one of the oldest and largest chamber organizations in the U.S., decided to switch, it naturally considered the leader in desktop and business productivity, Microsoft. But after reviewing its options with its trusted technology adviser, Newmind Group Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich., the Detroit Regional Chamber concluded that it didn’t need or want Microsoft’s full-featured Windows platform or Office productivity suite. Instead, it chose an alternative that isn’t as feature-rich, but offers compelling advantages just the same: Google Apps. After relying on Newmind to migrate its data and applications, the Chamber tallied up what it hopes to save over the next few years: $500,000. That’s a lot of savings for foregoing a few features most users will never miss.
Microsoft Corp., which grew handsomely for years by locking customers into long-term license agreements in exchange for providing incremental improvements to products on a regular basis, has been buffeted by alternative innovations that, while not necessarily better, are “good enough" for most customers.
But don’t feel bad for Microsoft. What Google Chromebooks and Google Apps are doing to Microsoft’s stranglehold on the market for personal operating systems and productivity applications, Microsoft is doing to Cisco in unified communications and to VMware in hypervisors. Microsoft’s alternative, “good-enough" innovations in these categories are giving the established market leaders fits.
They are hardly alone. In market category after category, industry leaders with feature-rich products — think IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, SAP and others — are being pressed to defend their premium prices and complex technologies. Thanks to cloud computing, bring your own device (BYOD), mobility and more, the options for scaling data centers, backing up and recovering applications, or mining data have multiplied. Customers — large and small — are wondering why they should pay big-ticket prices when they could spend a fraction for most of the same functionality.
While not necessarily new — former HP CEO Carly Fiorina championed a form of “good enough" computing a little more than a decade ago — the case for alternative solutions has evolved thanks largely to the cloud. Some customers are drawn to new ideas because they are easier on budgets. Others swear by them because they are less difficult to implement. Some choose them because they don’t require as much customization.
Rather than sit back, industry titans in enterprise applications, data center computing, virtualization, networking and more have developed or acquired disruptive solutions of their own. In November, for example, Cisco spent more than $800 million on Insieme, a developer of software-defined networking (SDN) technology that could challenge Cisco’s twin cash cows — routers and switches. EMC, meanwhile, is feverishly readying a new offering code-named Project Nile that will provide customers scalable and flexible on-demand storage solutions similar to those offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS).