Cius, Exadata, Itasca: more than a platform
The Cius tablet PC from Cisco and the Exadata machine from Oracle-Sun involve more than the simple introduction of a new enterprise technology - they also indicate a possible new (or accelerating) trend away from selling general purpose platforms and towards tightly integrated application systems.
Since the introduction of the iPad there has been a lot of discussion about potential competitors, and the discussion has focused on features, technical specifications, and the availability of 'apps.' When the Cius was announced feature and technical specification comparisons dominated news reports. But the real difference between the iPad and the Cius is not to be found in the specifications; rather, it is in the motivations and the intentions behind the device.
The iPad is a general purpose content delivery platform. (Content creation is possible, but not optimal, and other activities, e.g. extensive programming / software development, are prevented by Apple polices.) Although the Cius will have general purpose capabilities, the motivation behind it is quite specific - to enable vision of "the social enterprise."
Fritz Nelson, in an InformationWeek article explores the motivation and philosophy behind the Cius.
Cisco owns the infrastructure upon which communications happens, and now it wants to own the communications, too, all the way to the edge of the network and into the fingertips of the post-modern knowledge worker. ... It has acquired and -- this time -- built a pragmatic mix of technologies for the social enterprise. ... Just like the iPad has an e-mail button in just about every productivity application, from almost anywhere in Cius users will be able to detect presence, or start a WebEx session or a video chat or a multi-party call, with a push of a button. Cisco is providing access to its APIs, which presumably means that if Android developers want to take advantage of Cisco's collaborative infrastructure, they could, extending any productivity application into a unified application ecosystem. ... Cisco announced Show & Share (a system for sharing videos in the enterprise), Pulse (a social-centric search engine) and WebEx Mail (e-mail in the cloud, with connections to Outlook), [and] Quad, which it called "the glue of social behavior in the enterprise," again with links to Presence and WebEx. Quad is an enterprise social network, capturing activity streams and organizing visual voice mail, documents, wiki posts, and discussion threads, all searchable and all easily connected to outbound voice and video, ...
The Cius is intended to be a special purpose device, enabling the social enterprise with incidental general purpose capabilities. It represents a very tight integration of hardware, base technologies, and an application (corporate communication in this case) focus. Cius is not the only recent offering to share this kind of composition. Oracle's Exadata machines are a combination of hardware (Sun), based technology (Oracle DBMS), and application focus (Data Mining and OLTP). This philosophy of integration in order to optimize performance in specific application domains is really the defining difference between Cius and Exadata and their competitors.
Neither Oracle nor Cisco are the first to attempt this kind of integration. One of the earliest examples involved an object-oriented database management system (OODBMS) called Itasca. Itasca took the "pure OODBMS" technology developed at MCC in Texas in the 1970s - the Orion DBMS and commercialized it as Itasca. It was marketed as a general purpose DBMS base technology - with little success. A French company, Ibex, purchased the Itasca OODBMS, but instead of selling it as a base technology, they packaged it into inventory control applications for aerospace customers (a bill of materials for a 747 cripples relational databases) to provide the same kind of specialized integration of hardware, base technology, and application focus.
Exadata seems to be having great success selling its technology and it will be interesting to see if Cius has the same success. If so, we can expect to see a lot of other vendors emulating this approach to creating and selling new enterprise software products.