When HP announced plans to acquire Mercury Interactive last month, the company suggested that it would be a "game changing" event.

The most obvious thought is that Mercury will bring HP huge advantages in application management, particularly in the management of pre- and post-deployed distributed Web-based applications.

Mercury also brings strengths in Web services and service-oriented architectures through its acquisition of Systinet earlier this year. Coming into applications management from a lifecycle perspective vs just monitoring deployed applications is especially critical for HP.

Mercury also offers strong capabilities in applications dependency mapping through its acquisition of Appilog in 2004. Finally, Mercury's significant investment in IT governance (project and portfolio management, resource and cost management) through its 2003 acquisition of Kintana should similarly reap positive dividends and complement HP's DecisionCenter initiative, announced in June.

So is HP's acquisition of Mercury a "game changing" event?

To some degree, it is - but I would suggest it is more a striking bellwether of just how the game is changing in enterprise management than being a game-changing event itself.

HP's acquisition of Mercury reflects a number of "game changing" industry dynamics, only one of which is screechingly obvious. Collectively though, HP is changing how the marketplace is evolving and changing the very nature of "the game."

M&A mania
And so to get the obvious over with - it's clear that the IT management marketplace is going through several years of merger/and acquisition mania.

The mania has spread far beyond modest, technology investments (which are nonetheless sometimes just as significant as larger scale acquisitions) to more sizeable acquisitions, of which the HP/Mercury combo is probably the singlemost striking example.

It is all the more striking, as it does, coming on the heels of HP's acquisition of Peregrine Systems less than year earlier.

The obvious assumption is that there is a move to shore up critical mass and achieve end-to-end portfolios.

The goal would be the ability to beat the competition not just on one or two fronts but on as many as possible at once.

If HP is conceding anything it is managing the traditional mainframe environment which is a flat market (and that's an optimistic statement), but nonetheless still represents significant revenue for HP's three most prevalent competitors: BMC, CA and IBM.

What's interesting though, is that while CEOs of larger enterprise management vendors tend to have a fondness for the phrase "end-to-end," customers have made it dramatically clear that "frameworks" are dead and that brand choice is in.

In all my personal dialogues and consultations with IT adopters, no one ever once has used the phrase "end-to-end," and I never bring it up.

Whenever I do hear it from vendors, I silently wonder just what ends are they talking about. Even Darth Vader shied away from the "end-to-end" phrase when he was trying to rule the universe.

What's really going on in my opinion is a complex set of other dynamics that require vendors to realign solutions across domains and provide flexibility and advances in automation and integration.

Mercury had remained too siloed in an albeit very hot area (lifecycle application management) for its own good. It needed to realise that, to use a term from Mercury partner NetScout, managing the application "fabric" meant managing the oceanic confluence of distributed infrastructure (hardware and software) as an integrated whole, rather than appealing to the still dominant, but nonetheless, feudal organisations focused by domain expertise.

Bringing it all together
With HP, Mercury's strengths in application management can truly come to life in this new, more holistic context - assuming that HP continues to invest in appropriate analytics, and that more investments continue to be made in that phantasmagorical area where network traffic and application performance come together across all seven layers.

So where's the game change? IT management providers of all sizes need to look beyond traditional categories for product and brand position.

Not only are frameworks dead, so too are application management, network management, systems management, database management, storage management and security as isolated silos that dictate primary rather than secondary market definitions. Okay, they're not dead yet - to paraphrase Monty Python's "Mary Queen of Scots" - but the end is nigh (given say, a decade or two).

The marketplace is rearranging itself beyond domain-defined categories into new categories that are frankly not yet well defined. And as any readers familiar with my columns know, I believe the advancing adoption rate of CMDBs - that mysteriously complex system for integrating, reconciling and optimising management investments across domains - is the first new star in the new IT management heaven.

This is where IT managers can choose, optimise and integrate solutions that are orders of magnitude greater in versatility and effectiveness.

This makes HP's acquisition of Mercury a rich opportunity - and heralds a new game. But the game is not "end-to-end," it's supporting new and critical intersections across domains for advanced troubleshooting, capacity and optimisation, and service planning.

It's a game in which management solutions must integrate more profoundly and deliver far more value than in the past. And it's one that will also demand IT organisations embrace a state of transformation even more radical than that from the move beyond the data centre towards distributed computing.