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HP, Sun, IBM: And the Winner is ...

ORLANDO - As new product waves and innovative technologies roll across the IT landscape, it can be tempting for IT shops to switch horses or consider another technology provider.

Three Gartner analysts, here at the company's conference, tackled the question of which of the leading enterprise technology providers has the best portfolio of software, services and hardware.

The premise of the session was to answer the question of which of the big three computer giants, IBM, Sun and HP would ultimately "win." But no winner was declared. Far from it, in fact -- each of the analysts qualified their statements, discussed the unique needs different enterprises have and generally punted on the question of which was best.

They were more definitive about why IBM, Sun and HP were being discussed as the top tech portfolio companies to the exclusion of others. Gartner's David Cearley said he didn't think Dell had a broad enough mix of products and services.

"You have to look at multiple anchor points and that's not Dell," said Cearley."For the record, Dell does have a services operation but it doesn't have anything comparable to the other three companies' broad investment in software.

Just today, HP upped the ante by announcing an HP Unified Communications portfolio of products and services. HP said the portfolio brings together voice, fax, e-mail, voicemail, video/data/audio conferencing, collaboration, wireless and mobile technologies to improve the way individuals and groups work together, regardless of location or devices.

Cisco, however, is emerging as a potential up-and-comer that could find its way on the list after being a partner in HP's announcement.

"If someone breaks into the top three it could be Cisco," said Cearley. He noted the networking giant has broadened its portfolio with acquisitions, including WebEx, though he thinks it has to get stronger on the professional services side to be considered a top portfolio player.

Then there is Microsoft's potential trump card. "Microsoft has been showing a more creative view toward open source than they used to," said Gartner's George Weiss. "If they directed the company to more open source realms as they are now, and if the OS itself becomes modularized or open in certain ways, it would create a whole new landscape." He said such a move by Microsoft would be "courageous."

In general terms, the analysts discussed the pros and cons of sticking with one vendor or another, noting none of them have all the solutions and virtually all enterprises feature a mixed or multi-vendor environment to some degree.

"If you go with a vendor up and down that gets them lock-in," said Gartner's Carl Claunch. He suggested a better path might be to choose the vendor that has a good interoperability strategy and gives you options. "Having a particular combination of things can be powerful but it's often not enough. I've heard the two-rock theory that if you tie two together, somehow they'll float."

Another no-no is picking a provider based on its strength in one particular area. "If it's virtualization or any one area your basing your overall technology purchases on, then you're doing it wrong," said Cearley.

The trio of analysts concluded there doesn't have to be a winner for best tech portfolio because it's not a zero-sum game. "You want these three in there with a very strong portfolio you can leverage and [hope there's] true interoperability," said Weiss.