Like so many people in this industry, I can get easily enamored by Big Ideas. Powerfully intoxicating, they take your mind off the day-to-day, and transport you to a different place that might exist in the future.
Over the course of eight years of blogging and 1200+ blog posts, there are clearly times when I have fallen prey to the seductive power of Big Ideas.
I thought it might be fun to go back and ask the question — where are they now?
This one goes way back to 2009.
Nick Carr had written “The Big Switch”, which foretold that a world of cheap, limitless computing from public clouds would consume all forms of enterprise computing — a premise I didn’t entirely agree with at the time, and still don’t to this day. Amazon and Microsoft were trying to convince the world that public was morally superior. Again, I would disagree.
The clouderati argument was that enterprises couldn’t possibly compete with vast, public clouds. I saw that enterprise needs were different, and enterprise IT groups were fully capable of using the same technologies and operational models found in public clouds.
So I postulated the emergence of private clouds: cloud operational models, entirely under enterprise IT control. Not for everyone, certainly, but for a lot of people. I think I was one of the first people to talk about this idea -- not that it matters.
I took a lot of flak. Simple enough idea, but would require a complete transformation of the IT model from silos to services — that was going to be the hard part.
The majority of larger IT organizations I work with have something that they’d describe as a private cloud. Maybe it’s only being used for dev and test; maybe it’s running most production workloads — but it’s there. And, alongside, new processes that don’t look like the old ones.
The private cloud discussion is now evolving to hybrid clouds (federating private clouds with external service providers), but — make no mistake — the notion of a private cloud is now integral part of IT thinking these days.
If one accepts that the IT model has to move from project management to service delivery, IT has to transform its fundamental operational model. More challenging, the broader organization has to transform how it views and interacts with IT.
This deep realization that the next transformation would be more about people and process (and less about cool technologies) hit me like a ton of bricks in 2010. We, as technology vendors, could make all sorts of cool cloud-enabled stuff for the enterprise, but could anyone consume it?
Heady stuff indeed. I wrote a great deal about this topic, as I found it utterly fascinating. Human stories are always more interesting that inanimate technology objects.
At that time, I was beginning to be exposed to IT leaders who had realized the world was changing, and had to lead their organizations through a fundamental change. They had powerful stories to tell.
IT becomes the internal service provider of choice. They build and broker services that the business wants to consume. They see themselves competing with external service providers, and end up emulating their models and practices.
So, where are we in 2014?
To be sure, many IT organizations have gone through a fundamental model shift, and many more are somewhere along the spectrum towards a newer model. The really big IT shops generally move more slowly, the mid-sized organization can move more quickly.
Yes, this one came to pass, but if I’m being honest, it’s been a much more gradual process than I originally envisioned. As a result, I have a new appreciation on just how hard it is to transform a large organization — even when the evidence for change is overwhelming.
Corporate Social Media
One fun gig I did back in 2006 was to hammer together a corporate social media strategy for my then-employer: EMC. While the topic might seem almost humdrum today, back then it was a powerful mix of excitement and potential danger.
I quickly gained a deep appreciation on how powerful these new engagement techniques could be, and — at the same time — how these new ideas could absolutely terrify risk-adverse people. I wasn’t the first one to set out in this direction, but I certainly was one of the first.
After about 18 months, everything I wanted to be in place was done, and starting to have the desired effect. I wrote a white paper about the experience, and started to move on.
So, where are we in 2014?
The disappointing part is that I see that many, older and established companies never really “got” what this was all about. I see them using social media as frosting, vs. baking a new cake using its principles.
EMC acquired Greenplum in 2010. As part of that process, I started to get exposed to what people were doing with massive decision-support databases built on data from diverse sources. I even met a few data analysts who had clearly taken their game to a new level.
The industry had started to use the term “big data” for this new way of thinking about harvesting and capitalizing on vast and various data sources. Sure, there was no clear definition — is there ever? — but it was plain that something was happening.
So I started to write about what I saw, and what I think would be happening before long.
The first thing that was clear that this wasn’t your father’s data warehouse — it was something new. The second is that a new magician was required — the proverbial “data scientist” who could test the data against different hypotheses.
And, finally, organizations that wanted to benefit had some serious culture change to embrace — including learning to listen to the data vs. the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion)
Very quickly, the technology faded into the background for me, and the real story was how different organization were reacting to the opportunity/threat.
So, where are we in 2014?
Safe to say, most business and IT leaders “get it”. Maybe they’re doing a lot with big data (many are), maybe they have a few projects and learning where it fits best (the majority), and a few have decided it’s not a relevant concept in their world.
I said at the time that big data would change the world, as did many others. It has, and it will continue to do so.
Digital Business Models
In 2012, I began to realize that the big ideas in my world (social, cloud, mobile, big data, etc.) were actually manifestations of something even bigger going on — a fundamental transformation in business models. The Great Attractor, if you will -- moving everything in the universe with a soft, persuasive power.
Most familiar business models have their roots in the physical world. But in a world where everything is digital, shouldn’t business models evolve as well?
Showing my continued lack of creativity in naming things, I dubbed these new models “digital business models”. I saw that they had a repeatable structure and a natural evolution, and could often be traced back to a small group of visionary executives within the organization who saw what was happening — and decided to get busy!
So, where are we in 2014?
I’m not quite sure. There are clear examples of many successful companies that are going all-in the required components: mobile, cloud, big data, social, content, etc. I’m not privileged to see whether there’s a master strategy behind all of that, or whether it’s just the natural ad-hoc evolution of things.
One thing is clear. Just about everyone who thinks about these things is clearly aware that we now live in a digital world — and, as a result, we’re going to need a business model built for that world vs. the one that came before.
I was one of the earliest and largest proponents of converged infrastructure, going back to 2009 when VCE started to be talked about. Yes, you could say it was part of my job, but there was more at play.
I had been exposed to literally thousands of IT shops that were getting buried in IT infrastructure complexity: disparate technologies, firmware revisions, interoperability, design and architecture, etc. The world needed something different to consider.
Enter VCE and Vblocks — data center infrastructure, delivered and supported as a product, and not a collection of piece parts. I felt that this model could be a huge boon to IT groups who wanted to use infrastructure, and not hand-craft it.
So I started to passionately write about it. There was an enormous amount of blowback from many corners — how could you ever suggest limiting people’s choices? — but I saw it as a tradeoff that many were more than willing to make.
Fast forward to 2014
VCE and Vblocks are quite successful. Every major hardware infrastructure vendor has “their version” of converged infrastructure. We’ve also seen the growing popularity of “hyper-converged” infrastructure — but not quite accurately named, in my book.
Convergence has been a force in almost every area of technology — why not IT infrastructure?
I spend a lot of time with storage, so — naturally — many of my predictions came true. Not because I had a magic crystal ball, more because it just seemed so obvious.
As we sit here in 2014, object storage is most definitely a thing — if not in the enterprise, then certainly with service providers and cloud operators.
EMC shipped their first enterprise flash drive at the beginning of 2008. At the time, I realized that the inevitable had begun: a transition from disks being the primary storage medium, to flash. Now in 2014, I think it’s obvious to just about everyone.
There was a time when certain people thought that iSCSI would take over the world, and bury FC interfaces. Not so fast, I said. I think I even remember taking a few bets on how things would end up. Well, it’s 2014 and both iSCSI and FC are alive and well, serving their respective use cases.
There was a similar wave where the NAS aficionados thought that their simpler presentation would obsolete block-based SANs. Not so fast, I said — there’s transactional applications, and today’s NAS implementations can’t offer the same predictable low-latency as block-based approaches. Still largely true in 2014, as near as I can tell.
But those were all easy calls, I thought.
Software Defined Storage
But, make no mistake, software-defined storage will change how we think about storage.
It just might take a year or two to become self-evident to others :)
If you're close to certain topics, it's not all that hard to predict what will happen next. There's very little mystery involved, nor are massive amounts of intellect required.
If you decide to share your opinions about what might come next, be prepared for stiff opposition. Don't look for validation or rewards, it won't be coming. And no one wants to hear someone crowing "See?? I told you so!".
Just think of it as your token contribution to the efforts of others :)
Like this blog post? Why not subscribe via email?