Looking at the Forrester report and Asay's blog, I'm struck by the conservatism of these two predictions. Essentially, the messages can be boiled down to two realities. First, even five years from now, the vast majority of IT infrastructure will operate much as it is today and as it has been for the past 15 years. Second, IT organizations should accept that as a given and respond with rather ponderous 10-year plans to eventually deliver similar functionality as public providers have for the previous decade.
Set against the kind of examples presented in my last column (cloud adoption by companies such as Lotus Racing, Lonely Planet and Marks & Spencer), and against the heightened expectations of a world rapidly restructuring to become more digital, it seems that these predictions fall far short of what's going to be required of future IT. These company's pressing business challenges require immediate response, not a tepid, half-hearted, leisurely journey toward a future, somewhat more agile infrastructure.
A strategy based on a future that's more or less like today, with plans predicated on a 10-year journey to offering what Amazon and its fellow CSPs provide today, is fraught with danger for IT organizations. It presents the very real potential that IT will be seen as an irrelevant backwater to be bypassed with technology initiatives better suited to a more rapid pace of change.
How can the conventional wisdom of how IT should prepare for the future be so out of step with what's going to be needed? In considering disconnect between today's conventional wisdom and tomorrow's real requirements, there are three primary reasons today's vision is so inadequate.
It's too early. The ultimate outcome isn't obvious. We're around the one-decade mark of cloud computing, and perhaps it's not clear how this will all turn out. For a previous platform revolution, the PC, the equivalent 10-year mark is around 1988. At that time, many in the industry treated PCs as limited "toys" unsuitable for the kind of real computing done by minicomputers. In 1988, Digital Equipment was the No. 2 provider in the industry, with $14 billion in sales; by contrast, Dell did $159 million.
Ten years later, Dell achieved $10 billion in revenue; DEC was a badly tarnished has-been put out of its misery by Compaq's acquisition. Similarly, it's too early to predict how things will really turn out in cloud computing. Perhaps in five or six more years actual results will prove these predictions not aggressive enough.
Our vision is too limited. Asking established practitioners about the future naturally results in a limited vision, since they're bound to a mental framework formed by traditional practices. As an instructive example, the fascinating book The Second Machine Age discusses how, when electric motors began to replace steam power in factories, factory designers continued the practice of a large central motor running manufacturing machines via complex systems of belts and pulleys. They couldn't envision new designs with smaller motors attached to the machines themselves. It took a new generation of factory designers to internalize the potential of smaller electric motors and create designs more appropriate for their capabilities.
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