Everyone’s looking to be the next disruptor. The next big thing. Often though, it’s not merely envisioning the next great technology, but also being in the right place at the right time. There’s a degree of randomness to it. I’m reminded of the huge failure of the Apple Newton which was released almost a decade prior to the Palm Pilot. IBM’s OS/2 losing out to Windows 95. Arstechnica did a great write up on how and why that battle shook out, great to read over your morning coffee some morning. The iPod wasn’t the first portable MP3 player by any stretch, but certainly the most popular. Heading back to the late 70s/early 80s where you had the shift from time sharing mainframes to PCs. That’s disruptive. And in the last example, ironic, that in cloud computing and “as a service” offerings, we’ve come full circle.
But there is no denying the impact the “cloud” has been making as of late and it’s a bit of a wake up call for an infrastructure oriented IT professional, now due to the proliferation of application, platform, and even infrastructure as a service options available. In my particular situation a lot of my current day to day involves assisting business partners with migrating their applications over to EC2/RDS instances in Amazon’s cloud. This has been going on for the last few years, but has really been building up a head of steam in recent months. This was the chief driver for my entering into the EA MPS program. True there will always be jobs for knowledgeable IT infrastructure people, but they are becoming increasingly pidgin holed as it becomes cheaper for organization to purchase these services from third parties. I’m betting it will be easier for someone with a strong technical background to learn the business side of things, rather then the converse.
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
-Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
There was a great set of readings on cloud in this lesson, I especially enjoyed the anti-cloud pieces. Not because I myself am anti-cloud per say, I’m only just turning 35 this November so I don’t yet have the animosity some of my more senior colleagues harbor for it, but because the cloud simply is NOT the magic bullet, the solution for everything. And the subscription model is NOT always cheaper. I’m going to go through the Gartner Top 10 SaaS Myths article and talk about about those points and why I agree.
Myth 03: It’s Cheaper – Probably the big one, right? Cost is king, after all. But in the case of cloud, not always is this true. For example, in our portfolio we have some applications which I will describe as “very legacy” (to be charitable). These applications have dependencies on older, EOL operating systems and often run on hardware that may be a decade out of vendor support. You may recognize this has a horrible situation, but these applications exist in that odd state where they are both too critical to the business to decommission, yet not important enough to spend any money to maintain or upgrade. And yet, in the zeal for migrating everything without a hardware dongle over to cloud, application owners were SHOCKED to find out that they were now incurring charges for these systems which previously were “FREE.” You and I might see this as simply paying down that technical debt, but I know the appearance of these bills broke the heads of quite a few folks from the business side of the shop. Another thing that has happened a bit with some of our newer systems, some of the savings have been eaten up by mismanagement of cloud resources. For example, I can look in any random AWS S3 bucket and see in some cases several hundred gigs of orphaned volumes. Sure, it’s only a few cents a GB/month in charges, but in the aggregate we’re talking a sizable amount.
Myth 10: It’s All Integrated – Now, I know the Gartner article is specifically speaking to ERP systems as a service and I’m speaking more generally, but it’s not good to EVER assume integrations. I know of several cases where an application has been migrated to AWS, but the web front end and database is still running on prem. Depending on the type of integration, I would say existing in a cloud is even tougher. For example, I know of one integration between an ERP system and shipping PCs in a warehouse that is set up like this: ERP system running on Windows, hosted internally in data center in Georgia has script which every hour exports shipping data as a CSV file into a SAMBA share on a Unix box in a Data Center in Cincinnati. The shipping PCs, again, running Windows, map to this share and the FedEx shipping software is configured to pull the data from the CSV file and print labels. It’s kludge as hell. But it works. (The backstory to WHY it’s set up this way is because the shipping PCs used to reach directly to a file share for the data, but these PCs were managed by FedEx and the shippers liked to surf some of the more questionable sections of the Internet in their downtime, which caused a rather nasty piece of software to crawl into and take down several domain controllers one Friday afternoon.) And since it works, there is zero interest in fixing it. But now it’s causing some issues with the pressure to move everything to the cloud. Again, can’t avoid paying that technical debt forever.
Despite these edge cases that I’m sure any company who has existed for more than a few years will have, the cloud model is certainly the future.