Actio Corporation

Vendors target vertical markets

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Courtesy of Actio Corporation

While most IT vendors do not tailor-make servers, switches, security and storage gear for specific businesses, some purveyors of high-tech wares are starting to focus more closely on specific vertical customer segments.

For years, businesses in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail and financial markets have worked with vendors to mold products for wide, horizontally focused markets and customize them for tasks unique to specific industries. In response to this, large vendors such as IBM and Cisco have created vertical-focused marketing, support and services groups to act as liaisons among users with specialized requirements and the engineers and product managers designing the gear.

One example of this is IBM's recent revamping of how it offers Linux-based products and services to its customers. Instead of just selling to all comers Linux distributions, such as Red Hat and Novell's SuSE, on top of its iSeries, xSeries, pSeries and zSeries hardware, IBM created separate vertical-focused offerings for such industries as automotive, retail, banking and supply-chain management, which can be applied to multiple verticals.

The four vertical-focused Linux areas are called Infrastructure for Automotive Common Environment, Total Store Solutions, Production and Supply Chain Transformation, and Front Office Optimization for Banking.

Through these programs, IT executives in each vertical can purchase Linux-based servers, applications and specialized front-end desktop products, such as point-of-sale terminals for retail, advanced CAD workstations for automotive design or customized bank teller applications, says Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide Linux. 'Solutions are being defined by the customer, not by the vendor,' he says.

Most of the IBM solutions involve standard Linux builds and servers, with customized applications and other tweaks aimed at the specific vertical. Other vendors, such as Cisco, have taken the vertical focus to the next step, by making hardware products aimed at certain niche markets.

Cisco's vertical efforts led to the development of a specialized product for manufacturing environments: the Catalyst 2955, a LAN switch modified to operate on the factory floor. Unlike most Cisco switches, the Catalyst 2955 includes heat sinks instead of fans, so dust and debris are not sucked into the device. The box also is engineered to run under higher temperatures than regular switches.

More recently, the vendor launched its Medical Grade Network effort, which involves partnerships with vendors who make healthcare-specific IT products that allows applications and devices to operate more smoothly over a Cisco-based LAN or WAN.

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