The Dark Age in Front of Us: a Reality Check of mid 2014

As I draft this blog post on my way back from VMworld 2014, I have mixed sentiments to share.

I spent my IT career (roughly 20 years) on a finite number of technologies that I ended up specializing in (somehow). It has been a progression that looks like this: Unix (briefly), Microsoft and, eventually, VMware. What characterized all these experiences was a sense of stable use cases and best practices. Back in 2008 (pick up any year between 2005 and 2012) the way Bank of America (a name I picked up out of the blue, never worked with them) would deploy an infrastructure was not vastly different than how a small SMB in Turkey would. Let aside size and scale for a second, obviously. It was good to get comfortable with what’s going on in the industry, there were not many variants or patterns.

In the last couple of years things started to change (for me). And I started to sense that bad feeling of “I can’t really grasp what’s going on here”. Where are we going? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Part of this un-comfort comes from the fact that IT isn’t the only entity dealing with… IT. The raise of the public cloud, the DevOps movement, the business units becoming more independent. All this added variables to how you approach IT these days.

Another huge chunk of this un-comfort comes from the speed at which technologies and services outpace each others (if, for nothing else, at least for “industry momentum”). In the past, IT trends and products momentum would last for decades. These days IT trends and products momentum last for a few months. Think about that: AWS, OpenStack, Docker the “momentum transition” among these services and technologies was very quick and lasted literally for a year or so. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying AWS is of no use today (the contrary), but if you do AWS today you are no longer “the new kid on the block”. If you do Docker today you are (the new kid on the block). As long as it will last at least.

To make things worst, we are also starting to see brand new technologies that are permutations of previously new technology. I just came across Cloudfocker, the combination of CloudFoundry and Docker. Good luck with that. Notice that to shut down an application in Cloudfocker the command is “fock off”. I think that is brilliant! Can you imagine a CIO walking down the corridors shouting “fock off that application now!”. LOL. Oh dear, this new world is going to be much fun.

But I am digressing (again).

Why do I feel it’s going to be a dark age for IT (and I am not specifically referring to IT organizations here but in general to all users that are consuming IT technologies and services)? Because I think we are all experimenting (for lack of a better word) and because people are trying to figure out what I have tried to figure out in the couple of years (failing badly).

I am biased (I’ll admit it) but I did indeed like Pat Gelsinger’s concept in the keynote where he outlined the strategy of VMware being the “&” that could bridge the old and the new worlds. With that I am not necessarily assuming VMware is uniquely positioned for this nor that it will execute flawlessly. I have opinions but I’ll keep them for myself (they would not add value to this post). The downside of what’s been presented is that it may sound a bit of a “shooting in the dark” where VMware is committing to pretty much everything (from OpenStack to Docker). I am not blaming this, in a way it does align to my personal sentiments that it is not possible, given the current status of industry affairs, to reduce the discussion to one single IT pattern to rule them all.

Talking about confusion I have also found the analysis of a few analysts (no pun intended) a bit “shooting in the dark” too. Here is an interesting story, in my opinion at least.

Early in 2012 I wrote a blog post titled The Magic Rectangle where I was trying to capture IT patterns in the industry to map products available at the moment. That kicked off an interesting blogs discussion with Gartner’s analyst Lydia Leong. In her post No World of Two Clouds she made the point that, essentially, cloud specialization for different patterns isn’t ideal. That wasn’t really the point in my article (as I pointed out in the first comment in Lydia’s blog post) but I could see how one could interpret my post that way. Fair enough.

That is why I was so surprised the other day to read one of Lydia’s latest posts on Bimodal IT and the future of VMware where she was making (as far as I understand at least) the exact opposite point: you can’t have one single pattern or infrastructure serving both the new and the old worlds.

I am not going to debate with the content of that blog post (Lydia has a point) but what I would like to do is to underline the difficulties of grasping what’s exactly going on in the industry as a whole and the pace at which things change. Worst case Lydia will say that things have changed since 2012 (which talks to the speed issue) and best case Lydia will have her arguments to explain in further details the nuances between the two articles (which talks to the complexity issue we are experiencing in this dark age).

In the middle of all this there are them, the consumers of IT. They will watch at the fights on Twitter between DevOps cowboys, ITIL masters and everything in between. And they will keep wondering: what on earth is going on here? Where am I going? Where should I be going? What am I doing wrong? what am I doing right? Which of the 150 vendors pitching me 150 different views of the world should I trust? Their best choice is still to go listen Lydia and the Gartner crew, if nothing they are (and have to be) agnostic. Having that said however, analysts where predicting in the late nineties that Itanium would have taken over the world by 2010 and x86 would slowly die. They are not infallible. A moment of silence for Itanium, please.

This won’t be solved over night. We are entering a decade of experiments in front of us until a new pattern and model will emerge that people can safely follow and stabilize on. Whether the world is going to be “bimodal IT” or whether it’s going to be a world of one cloud serving two IT models, that I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows to be honest. I for one will continue to monitor this space trying to figure out when we are going to get out of this dark age of confusion. I hope I will find my way.

To the 23.000 people that gathered in San Francisco for VMworld I just want to say: watch out, this world is changing. I don’t yet know how (exactly) but it is changing. Whether it’s EVO:RAIL or vCloud Air or Docker or vRealize Automation or OpenStack, you have got to move on. Stop salivating for a demo of a new cool point technology. You need to look at this from a more holistic perspective. In my opinion at least. Don’t look at the tree, look at the forest. Talk to your internal customers and try to please them. Because there are lots of options these days to by-pass you if you don’t add value (or worst, if you are a bottleneck to them).

When I see 400 people standing in line to get into a “troubleshooting vMotion” breakout session I feel a sense of urgency to share my concerns regarding how you can be relevant in your organization in 5 years time. I know I am not going to be popular in the community for saying this, but it has got to be said.

Massimo.

10 comments to The Dark Age in Front of Us: a Reality Check of mid 2014

  • Hi Massimo,

    It was in your second last paragraph that I think you have captured the essence of the current state of IT for IT staff:

    “Don’t look at the tree, look at the forest. Talk to your internal customers and try to please them. Because there are lots of options these days to by-pass you if you don’t add value (or worst, if you are a bottleneck to them).”

    And this must surely resonate with everyone being entrusted with making decisions and purchasing new Technology & Systems for and on behalf of the Business:

    “And they will keep wondering: what on earth is going on here? Where am I going? Where should I be going? What am I doing wrong? what am I doing right? Which of the 150 vendors pitching me 150 different views of the world should I trust?”

    As we start seeing technology being used to enhance a new order built around sharing/trusting/reputation (think Uber, Airbnb, etc…) then it could be that there will be even more emphasis placed on a true “Trusted Advisor” like role to help people pull back the curtain a little and understand what is or is not relevant to them to cut down the choices to something more manageable with a better chance of a successful outcome.

    Cheers,
    Dave Caddick

  • I hate to say it but what is really happening is that IT is becoming a commodity. The days of Oracle, VMware, IBM working on marginals of 35% are going to be over. Amazon works on a margin of 5% (well at least in their retail business). Many infrastructure tools like Chef, Puppet are open source and free as are Linux OSes like centos and ubuntu. They replace infrastructure software like bladelogic that cost 100s of thousands of dollars. MongoDB, nodejs all open source all free. Companies can run a totally free software stack today when building applications. Ten years ago with Oracle, Websphere, Bladelogic the proprietary equivalent was millions of dollars.

    These days open source companies work on much smaller revenue from the paid support and software as a service versions of their software compared to the number of users of their products. There is lots of information on the internet (good and bad) about these products.

    This ofcourse is great for independent consultants with expertise in these areas and who can use information they learn from the internet and customer engagements. Not so good for proprietary enterprise software versions whose products will look increasing expensive.

    • Massimo

      That reminds me of what I usually tweet once in while: “use open source software, says the consultant that makes 5K$ a day to make it work”.

      I don’t think that shifting money from capex to opex is going to solve the problem (at least the problem I was pointing out in my blog post). I remember Lou Gerstner of IBM saying in his book “Who says elephants can’t dance” that … IBM used to make money on machines and give people away for free, whereas nowdays IBM makes money on professional services and gives away machines for free. As you zoom out 100x and you abstract from the details of the statement, this statement is so true these days.

      The mere fact that you throw words like open source, SaaS, Chef, Puppet, MongoDB, Ubuntu (just to name a few)…. only confirms that this world is getting uber complex with so many (too many?) options.

      The fact that open source is free and proprietary software costs money is very true, but it has nothing to do with the complexity angle I was alluding to.

  • I wish I was making 5K$. Unfortunately those days are gone too. In the old proprietary days, there were a limited number of consultants with the expertise so costs were high.
    These days when companies say move to AWS and an open source stack to save money they don’t want to then blow the savings on consultants. In fact consultants rates have gone down for AWS and open source stack compared to say an SAP consultant 5 or 10 years ago.
    All the info on AWS and open source stacks are on the internet freely available so anyone with the ability and time can skill up on these technologies.
    Consultants can make a good living but there is no gold rush. Rates are around $700 a day for good experienced folk, except maybe in silicon valley where companies have congregated and hence pushed up demand.
    To be frank i don’t think open source technologies are anymore complex than proprietary. Maybe there are more choices and survival of the fittest means it is harder to pick a winner early on. But with well used open source products you can typically google any problem and find answers. -)
    Maybe in the old enterprise software days companies just went with Oracle or Microsoft and got all there products from one source, with open source I suppose that does not happen so much so in that regard things are more complex and customers have more choice. Welcome to the benefits of freedom. -)

    • Massimo

      While I am not disagreeing in principle with what you are saying, again that is not the point of my post. Let’s not focus on costs, lock-in and such things (I have discussed these at nauseam in the last few years).

      > and customers have more choice. Welcome to the benefits of freedom.

      is exactly the PROBLEM I was describing. Which is very different than open Vs proprietary and cheap Vs expensive. That sounds hell, not freedom (from the angle I was looking at it).
  • Thanks for replying to my posts and i have enjoyed your past posts and found them interesting and perceptive. Personally I think we are entering a golden age of IT freedom for customers where dominance from vendors is reducing. I worked for enterprise software companies for 20 years but since the financial crisis i have switched horses and now am big on open source, cloud computing and independent contracting with companies. -)
    Time will tell what happens in the future. As always there will be companies that have more successful IT than others. Typically this is not caused by software choice ie proprietary or open source, but the intangibles. – Politics, Culture, Ego and Power. -)

    • Massimo

      Thank YOU for chiming in. Yeah it depends from the angle you are looking at it. If you are looking at it from the angle of a small, agile, innovative team yes I agree it’s a golden age as there is a proliferation of things you can leverage. If you are looking at this from a “mass adoption” perspective I don’t think it’s a golden age. But then again, that’s my opinion.

  • Andy Jenkins

    Massimo,

    I am bit slow on catching up on some of your posts, going through my reading list at the mo!. I hope all is well?.

    I think you are right, the market we are in right now is very chaotic and as a result complex, I was reading earlier about OpenStack and how that is growing. I then got reading about the growing complexity of the backend databases, most of the OpenStack Modules are based on MySQL, then suddenly some modules are MongoDB, both free but very different and complex to mange and that is within the same Cloud Platform!.

    I look at it from a personal point of view, and to me, its all about remaining relevant, and that is challenging in a chaotic market as you don’t know where to place your bets.

    I think what is clear (based on my own experience with clients) is that two IT teams/departments are emerging, classic and cloud native (whether I call it Bi-Model or not is not the point). To me, being relevant in the next 2 years will be all about understanding the needs of both of these teams and being able to articulate value (whatever the product / solution maybe) across those teams.

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out e.g whether this fork will continue or whether it will have to consolidate due to mass of complexity that is needed to fully operate within the Enterprise space.

    Take care and speak soon.

    Andy J
    @stonestokie.

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