Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The three stages of acceptance for carriers in the cloud

April 17, 2012

casa de la cultura

Carriers have some major issues when it comes to mental inertia.

They always put themselves at the centre of the universe and, especially in enterprise markets, they tend to be fixated on infrastructure rather than the applications i.e. the things that actually matter. This is a trait they share with their target customers, product-minded IT departments.

Some providers have tried buying clouds, some building, some just investing, and amongst the analysts there’s been plenty of talk about the broker model. However, the jury is still out on whether carriers can indeed find a suitable and profitable role in the new cloud world order.

I believe that if carriers can find enduring success it will depend on the acceptance of three basic, related truths.

1) Accept the commoditisation of IT

Throughout history all infrastructural technologies, from railways, to electricity, to telephony, have undergone the same process of transition from initial innovation, to product, through to commodity and utility provision.

Cloud computing is the latest phase in the relentless commoditisation of IT infrastructure. This is not news, but unfortunately the message is still not getting through to a telco industry steeped in dogma.

It’s important to keep in mind that as infrastructure becomes an inexpensive commodity utility service, all value shifts from hardware to software.

“Enterprise grade” is no longer synonymous with “the best”. From now on, whenever you read this in the context of hardware, simply replace it with “Suitable for Legacy/Unreliable Software“. That will help you to keep things in perspective.

If you’re actually trying to build cloud infrastructure, remember this: Using expensive purpose-built enterprise hardware ignores the trend of commoditisation and creates only a competitive disadvantage. When infrastructure becomes a commodity utility, you need to shift your focus onto software.

2) Accept that every conversation has to start with software.

It amazes me how almost every IT sales conversations starts with infrastructure, considering it has no inherent value. The applications that serve the business might get considered as an afterthought, if they’re lucky.

Developers who are clued-up are writing cloud applications today that surpasses the resilience and scalability that was previously achieved in hardware. Your enterprise grade infrastructure has no meaning here. Carriers will need to work out where the customer is on the application journey and make sure they understand it.

Ultimately success in cloud will depend on acquiring something that has so far eluded carriers; an ability to operate with a software-oriented mindset.

3) Accept that the customer is changing

Business Internet access is now fit for purpose in most mainstream applications. Meanwhile public commodity cloud has demolished barriers to entry for greenfield software development.

This has created an entirely new service-centric value network that is beginning to dismantle the product-centric world of Enterprise IT departments and the IT incumbents that serve them.

It’s common knowledge that developers everywhere are bypassing IT to get the resources they need from public cloud. Meanwhile the business users can now access better and faster applications and services outside the organisation, than from their internal IT dept.

Most productivity gains are coming from outside the business and this is not sustainable for Enterprise IT.  A strategy which targets only the traditional value chain or “stack” of Enterprise IT is akin to moving into a house that is scheduled for demolition.

Service providers still regard the IT dept as their sole customer. When the IT dept’s own customers (i.e the business) starts to look elsewhere, changing procurement patterns, carriers need to think about what the implications are for them.

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All technological change is generational change

May 19, 2011

In my last post I explained why arguments over private clouds are a by-product of our industrial era, top-down thinking and how this will change over time. A few days later I found myself reading the closing paragraph in Nick Carr’s The Big Switch:

All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become  adults and begin to push their  outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.

We should always keep this point in mind when arguing over the “validity” of different types of clouds.

Those of us in control of today’s enterprise IT are destined to spend our time puzzling and arguing our way through transition. We are not equipped with the mindset, the technical or institutional context necessary to imagine a world of ubiquitous public utility computing; our fears and expectations are shaped too heavily by our past and what we already know.

Only when today’s IT decision makers have been replaced by the next generation will the true significance of cloud computing become apparent. It will be this generational turnover, together with the much discussed effects of commoditisation, that will combine to create our cloudy future.

Fort business and cloud semantics

May 11, 2011

The boundaries that exist today between private and public IT are a concept born of industrial era, hierarchical institutions. This is what David Weinberger called Fort Business. It’s about building walls around the firm, being inside and looking out. The distinction between us and them.

The rise of the term cloud itself comes from business rather than consumer perceptions (for whom consumption of IT as a service over the Internet has been a transparent progression). It’s surely no coincidence that fluffy clouds have traditionally been used on corporate network diagrams to denote something out there that we don’t understand.

I was following the private vs public cloud battle at ECS Interop this week, as it was echoed on twitter. As entertaining as this was, I couldn’t help wondering if, beyond the technical and economic debates, anyone is taking time to think about the social factors that play an inherent part in today’s cloud semantics, and the direction in which we’re heading.

The transition from IT as physical product to public commodity service is an insurmountable mental hurdle for many middle aged IT managers and senior execs. The very idea of it turns their whole world upside down, regardless of the actual risks. What we term “private” cloud is essentially the stepping stone that has been created to bridge the fear gap.

So private cloud is a real thing and it serves a real purpose. But we know from history that it’s only a transitional step, so what happens next?

At Infosec Europe this year I heard Bruce Schneier say that the Internet represents “the greatest generation gap since rock and roll”.

He’s right.

We do not fear what we have always known. We view everything already in existence at the point of our birth to be the natural order of the world – simply constants in life that have always been. When today’s digital natives – our Facebook generation – are running tomorrow’s institutions, not only will these institutions begin to look very different, but there will be no distinction between public and private cloud. It will just be a big mesh of utility computing.

The subversion of hierarchy is already running at full steam; the IT department in Fort Business is being bypassed at an astonishing rate. Business Line Managers are buying IaaS on credit cards, employees are using Google Docs and Yammer for collaboration, Linkedin for their customer contact, Prezi for presentations, Dropbox for filesharing.

As Joe Baguley puts it, the IT department (the department of No) “is just one of the providers in your life”.

As time marches on, shaping our attitudes, our institutions and the way we perceive them, the private vs public cloud battle will become a relic consigned to the museum of human debate; appearing about as relevant to tomorrow’s business leaders as an argument over the respective merits of CDs and vinyl.