The Post-Crash Business Battlefields

ibm vs hp

I know, I know, it's tough to talk about good times right now what with the Dow still on the down escalator, the banking industry looking more screwed up than ever and both Congress and the administration managing to find new ways to impede the natural healing process of the economy.

But we will come out of this disaster, though my cheery prediction of this summer (when it should have happened) has begun to fade in the face all of the counterintuitive Fed "solutions" before us. And when we do, it will be a whole new game out there, with new opponents and new battlefields.

What will be the biggest competitive fights of the post-crash tech business world?

I can see four shaping up already.

The first fight -- and biggest, revenuewise -- will be for control of the world's data centers. This will be between Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems and IBM. The first salvo came this week with rumors that IBM was negotiating to buy the also-ran in this race -- the long-suffering Sun Microsystems -- and put that company out of its misery.

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This is a trillion-dollar market, and the fight will be between some of our biggest corporate heavyweights, so this contest is going to feature some heavy punching, global battlefields and no doubt appeals by the losers for federal anti-trust investigations into the winner.

And who will the winner be? Hard to tell. Cisco has the industry creds, HP has the muscle and the broadest tech capabilities and IBM has the best access to corporate C-level officers -- and is about to beef up its hardware with Sun Micro. Expect this duke-out to last the better part of a decade.

The second battle will be over the control of revenue-generating information. Right now, the clear industry winner is Google, which, in a brilliant stealth campaign, offered the world a free Internet search engine … and in exchange took much of the world's advertising revenues.

The rest of the world has now caught on to that bait-and-switch, but not before it is almost too late. The race now will be to nail down the world's last remaining information caches -- and if possible, create new ones -- before Google snatches them up, as it did with YouTube.

That's what Microsoft is trying to do, and you can be sure that was Carol Bartz's primary charter when she was hired to bail out Yahoo. That's where Twitter is going too, despite the widespread notion that the company has no revenue model. And, perhaps it goes without saying, that's exactly what Mark Zuckerberg is trying to do with all of those controversial schemes at Facebook to monetize user information.

What we can expect to see then, over the next few years, is an Information Land Rush, with companies snatching up every unclaimed pile of information on the planet (and beyond: consider Google Space), spending huge bucks to create new ones -- and then building sturdy legal, software and security walls around them.

Is it too late to stop Google? It may seem so right now. But Google is suffering serious growth pains that it may yet not overcome. And though it may not seem the case, there remains more information on the Web not controlled by Google than under its hegemony. In the end, it may prove to be the case that no one defeats Google head-on (though Microsoft and Yahoo will continue to try), but that other, equally powerful new companies spring up alongside it.

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