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Technology alliances around certain products--processors, blade servers, software platforms--seem to be all the rage these days. You have your Itanium Solutions Alliance, your, any one of seemingly a zillion Microsoft-related groups, and so on.
But one key difference between 15 or 20 years ago and now is that in these times, the alliances seem to be more vendor-driven, whereas user groups held much more sway back then. I'm not saying vendor groups didn't exist in the '80s or that user groups have completely gone away. But with the concentration of vendor-led groups now, do the same benefits exist for you, the customer?

Well, yes--in some cases, and if you're smart enough going in to know that these do coalesce around certain proprietary technologies. If those technologies happen to solve your business needs, and the group is a repository for customer information-sharing, technology advances and assistance rather than just a marketing tool, then they can be very useful to you.

Take as an example. IBM, essentially the leader among the 60 companies that make up the group. is certainly upfront about the fact that the alliance revolves around its BladeCenter technology. But it's hardly leading its partners around by the nose; rather, they're the ones using the basic IBM idea of "(X) In A Box" to come up with packages for financial services, branch banking, and other business areas that aim to make life easy for BladeCenter users. The latest versions are security and video monitoring packages, which could well prove to be popular in the market. In a smartly managed case, everybody wins: IBM gets cred and (maybe) sales for its platform and builds an ecosystem around it; the partner companies get technology and marketing assistance to get useful products out the door; and customers get the know-how of scores of companies, not just one, to solve a business need with, hopefully, a minimum of fuss and cost.

So, when VMware announces an alliance around its desktop virtualization technology, it certainly ought to be obvious that such a group serves VMware's competitive needs against a coming Microsoft onslaught at both the desktop and server. Nothing wrong with that, either, just as there's nothing wrong with Microsoft or IBM or HP or Intel leading similar efforts. The question for you is, what do you get out of it? Is there a business or technology reason for you to care about such groups? Do they have useful information that helps you get the most bang for your buck? Do your due diligence; the companies will be only too happy to let you know how they can help, I'm sure. But in the end, those groups have to serve you, not the other way around, and only you can make that call.