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Non-IT software vendors stir up IT tool selection process

Many non-IT vendors now offer homegrown software -- a model that carries benefits and risks. Weigh the pros and cons around support, availability and other factors before making a decision.

Choosing an IT vendor used to be so simple. IBM, Dell and HP ruled the hardware roost, while SAP, Oracle and Microsoft did the same in software. Cloud, however, has changed all that -- not just as a means for enterprises to create their own platforms, but for non-IT software vendors to go to market with their tools and services.

For IT professionals, this software market shake-up is a bit of a mixed bag.

The new software economy

For years, there have been industrial, non-IT organizations that create a service or tool they realize other IT professionals could use. Saab, for example, an automobile manufacturing company, spun out hardware and software companies, while GE rolled out several different technology groups.

Today, companies increasingly look to build their own software, from the ground up, to create market differentiation. For additional revenue streams, they then offer this homegrown software -- or a form of it -- to others, as commercial or open source systems.

Amazon is an obvious example of this. The company planted its roots as an online bookstore, but now hosts millions of other companies' applications on its Amazon Web Services cloud, and offers its own services and applications alongside it -- a smooth, but drawn out transition from a non-IT company to an IT software vendor. As part of this cloud strategy, Amazon has also designed and built hardware that challenges the likes of Dell, HP and IBM.

There are many more examples of companies that pivoted to become IT software vendors. Netflix has shown on GitHub its commitment to use and provide open source software in areas such as big data and workload orchestration. Capital One, for its part, looked to bolster container security through its acquisition of Critical Stack, and now sells that software to others.

The software economy benefits from the variety of non-IT-focused organizations that build and share their services and applications.

Tech companies themselves also perform spin-offs: IBM did this with the Eclipse development environment; Google did it with Kubernetes; and VMware did the same with Cloud Foundry.

In both of these models, the original company makes its software a de facto standard, which drives further development and adoption. This gives IT professionals access to software that was written and tested within actual enterprises, and doesn't require customization, at least not extensively, to meet their own needs.

The software economy benefits from the variety of non-IT-focused organizations that build and share their services and applications. Various software types become more affordable for smaller organizations and drive innovation in competitive products.

Proceed with caution

Unfortunately, there is a dark side. Unless these untraditional IT software vendors offer solid, independent support, IT teams that use those tools might find themselves in a tough position. The original company that built the software, for example, can change it at any time to meet its own unique requirements, even if other users don't want or need those changes. Sometimes, the original company makes wholesale changes to the software or dumps it completely -- as has been the case with some Google open source and free software services, such as instant messaging and collaboration tool, Google Talk, and the soon-to-be-retired social platform, Google+. At this point, IT pros who use the software must decide if they can support the software themselves, or otherwise move to a different system.

Due diligence is key, particularly with open source offerings. Determine not only where future support will come from, but where it could come from if that initial source disappears. If the software provides a valuable service and it's necessary to pay for support, then so be it.

For business continuity, ensure there is more than one point of supply for the software -- particularly if its original creator is smaller in size. This way, if the original owner shuts down, IT users still have a service until they can find a functional replacement. To maintain peace of mind in this new software economy, avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.

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