"Change it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fall that's all"
- The Who, "Won’t Get Fooled Again"
With Washington festooned over the weekend with banners and parties alongside the serious national dialogue about the issues of the day, we all understand that the world has changed significantly in the last four years. It has become a more distributed, inter-connected place in every aspect of our society.
The chiaroscuro of the Cold War has completely disappeared - and we're now seeing a complex and nuanced combination of emerging economic and military powers.
And there are key parallels in information technology with significant implications for IT buyers.
The Cloud Has Already Won
Today, you'd have to be hiding under a big rock – trying to avoid the HarBowl, perhaps – if you do not realize the IT Stack has irrevocably flipped from client-server/Web to Cloud. Talk to any entrepreneur, and the big argument is not whether to rent the IT infrastructure from an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider (e.g., Amazon or Rackspace), but what possible reason could someone have to burn precsious capital on buying their own servers and routers.
IT is a huge industry. At a projected $3.7 trillion in 2013 (according to Gartner), IT would be one of the five largest economies in the world, behind Japan but ahead of India. As Dan Lyons wrote last year, industry combatants focus on the potential of a $1 trillion transfer of wealth from the large legacy tech vendors to the new upstarts. So the money is there.
The unanswered question, though, is what happens to the hows, whys and whats of IT acquisition? How do you buy enterprise technology in the era of the new stack?
Let me break it down into 5 key elements:
1. The New Boss
Traditionally IT decision making is made in small, vertical slices of the stack. Network buyers procure networking components, storage buyers acquire disks and flash, and functional leadership drives application acquisition with their IT partners, etc.
That is changing rapidly as business decision makers (e.g., line management) set the rate and pace of operations and require IT to respond accordingly. As we learned at Nicira, in the Cloud era, this has led to the emergence of a new category of IT elite called Cloud Architects, who are responsible for making all the components come together.
It has led to an increased focus on both proprietary and open source cloud architectures that enable applications quickly and reduce the intense, overwhelming micro-focus on the cloud’s subcomponents. Rapidly enabling applications that support business processes will eventually drive all IT decision making. My advice: Look out for the cloud guy. He is the new power broker.
2. Bandwidth And Processing For Nothing, And The I/O For Free
In the client-server era systems model, hardware and software were custom-built to work together to enable a specific performance envelope. While specific, targeted use cases will always remain, increasingly Moore’s Law holds sway.
The x86 platform in servers, flash in storage and merchant silicon in networking increasingly dominates the bottom, infrastructure layers of the stack. IT buyers are getting the horsepower at scale by riding this curve and looking to vendors who pull their value through software.
It's the death of proprietary hardware and the emergence of smart software in IT. Remember this when your tech sales guy comes calling and brags about his chips.
3. Why Buy When You Can Lease?
There has been a ton written about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) replacing packaged software, so I wont' bother repeating it. But what happens when Web-scale infrastructure is rentable by the hour (and as Amazon has shown, prices drop along the way)? Without having to deal with real estate, power and cooling, enormous computing power is available by the hour. Determining the differences among the providers – i.e., how well suited are they for your applications - will be your next research activity. Build your IT plan/budget around renting, not buying.
4. There And Back Again, A Content Tale
Cloud-based collaboration environments like Box, DropBox and Google Drive are dramatically revamping how companies store and manage data - as well as how they collaborate both within and across corporate boundaries. The ease-of-use of these platforms compared to traditional software packages like Microsoft SharePoint make them a reality in your business whether you like it or not. Your employees already use them - even if they never bothered to tell you. Developing a content management strategy that accounts for these applications and what should be in the cloud and what should be on premise is critical, right now.
5. Any Way You Want It/That's The Way You Need It
Finally, all of your applications have to work on any screen, anytime. Remember, it was just four years ago that folks said the iPhone was not ready for business. At the time, people were thinking about smartphones the way radio executives thought about television. In 2013, IT buyers should consider only those applications that work across platform and screen categories.
Today's businesses need to move faster than they did four years ago: competition and globalization leave them no choice.
This creates friction with existing vendors, who have to deal with the reality of slower development cycles, predictable revenues and profits for shareholders, etc.
As buying behavior changes, though, the fast will eat the slow, including the IT buyers, who will see their influence wane if they cannot keep up with the competition cycle or lose influence as user-driven shadow IT takes over. The smart guys will be listening to The Who:
“I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again”