I’ve had this post sitting around for a while, and I’m still not sure I should publish it. Of course if you are reading it then I’ve pushed the button and am bracing for the inevitable…
Today, in the technology arena, there is an endless debate that borders on religious at times. Sides are drawn, battles are pitched, evangelists shout from the rooftops.
In one corner, we have an evolutionary step forward in the traditional client/server computing model that has been the staple of every IT organization since the demise of the mainframe. It leverages some of the technology advances that have made IT denser and more efficient, and it layers on new kinds of software designed to change HOW we consume traditional IT architectures. It also maintains some pieces of the existing IT model that are harder (but not impossible) to evolve, including the kinds of apps that are used, how those apps are abstracted from the OS/hardware, ownership and proximity of the underlying infrastructure infrastructure. It allows businesses to maintain some of their investments in staffing and training while driving towards more efficiency. This type of computing is extremely common, and almost every infrastructure company on the planet has a solution in this space, and they all cater to the same kind of customer and use the same terminology. Almost every traditional enterprise has an internal roadmap that references it in ways large or small.
In the other corner, we have a revolutionary new model for IT that is clearly the way of the future. It changes the core of WHAT the business is consuming from an IT standpoint, moving away from a client/server model to one of almost pure application consumption. It abstracts those apps away from all of the underlying software and hardware, and allows for scale and flexibility in ways that are impossible in a traditional model. It promises faster go-to-market, the ability for businesses to focus almost exclusively on the applications and end users, scaling to practically infinite size and the most efficient consumption model yet, where demand informs scaling and operational patterns, and cost is tied directly to consumption. The challenge is that in return for these benefits, it demands that enterprises make wholesale changes in many parts of the IT stack, from people to applications to processes and technology, a demand that is hard and expensive. For some companies it’s impossible in the short term.
On the face of it, we have two IT consumption models that shouldn’t really overlap, except that one could be a logical stepping stone to the other. One for new apps, one for old. One revolutionary, one evolutionary. One changing HOW we consume, the other changing WHAT we consume. Both landmarks on an IT evolution that has been on-going for years, both counting some of the most intelligent people in the industry as fans, both providing distinct benefits to companies of every size and type.
But what if, just what if, those two models shared the same name? What if BOTH of those things, which we’ve just differentiated in almost every way that matters, were called “cloud”? That’s when all hell breaks loose, and frankly both sides are to blame.
Fact: every traditional hardware manufacturer in every segment has a portfolio of “private cloud” technologies which generally encompass a market that is more than just virtualization, but is still ensconced in the traditional OS/App/Hypervisor worldview. Almost every hardware vendor is also working hard to converge the different parts of the infrastructure stacks that make up these private clouds, trying to provide as much efficiency as possible in a world still dominated by Windows and Linux servers, fat clients, virtual desktops and hypervisors. The products exist, the market exists, customers are spending Billions of dollars a year making this evolutionary step, changing how they consume IT without gutting the people, processes and applications that support the business. So what’s the problem?
If you want an example, check out this piece by Phil Wainewright on ZDNet. It’s painfully obvious that Phil is on the “cloud is apps and nothing else” side of the equation, and even if he has a valid point that companies market what they want to sell (shocking, I know) it gets overridden by the religious fervor used in excoriating the article in question. In the end, there’s no critique of what the customer needs, there’s no evaluation of where the customer is, there’s just the shrill cry of “you shouldn’t be using cloud because you aren’t using my definition!” No one wins and the world is simply more noisy. I think Brian Gracely put it best when he laid out the thinking to be like this:
Enterprise = Private Cloud = False Cloud = Old Stupid Apps = Stupid People = Waste of Time
It gets even harder to understand the conflict when you realize there are great examples of success and happiness on both sides. Netflix is, understandably, one of the poster children for the new paradigm of application development. Built from the ground up to provide all of the features and resilience that the company needs, it’s the quintessential app-driven environment. And obviously it works well for the Netflix business model!
Aaron Delp and I had a brief but very intense Twitter DM conversation a couple weeks ago, where he was very concerned with some of the newer messaging being put out by the company we both work for, because he didn’t feel like we were able to “deliver a cloud environment”. I asked him, somewhere in the two dozen messages we exchanged, if there was ANYONE out there who WAS delivering what he felt a “cloud environment” should be, and he didn’t think anyone was. My takeaway was that he wasn’t arguing that there were two different markets and use cases, but instead was objecting to the word “cloud” being used in any way other than the purest form, and saying that calling the Vblock a “private cloud system” wasn’t acceptable. His argument was passionate, well reasoned and not factually wrong, but it ignored the basic truth that one word can have many meanings, even if that is confusing or done in an opportunistic way. And I’m certainly willing to concede that much of this could have been solved by hardware vendors not co-opting the word “cloud” just because it resonated with customers…
With that, I’m going to segue into another current issue where two groups using the same word causes tension and bad feelings. I warn you now, this has NOTHING to do with technology, so if you close the browser now you aren’t going to miss anything. Since I think I hit every taboo subject there is in the next few paragraphs, consider this your fair warning…
I warned you. Did you feel that warning? I did, and I’ll say I told you so later…
As many of you know, I’m a fan of the rational and logical reading of the US Constitution. I’m not a full-on Libertarian, because I don’t think the founding fathers intended for the Constitution to be a static document, but one that maintained the core values of the country while taking into account the changing of the world and of the United States itself. In my opinion, this is why some of the smartest guys who ever lived wrote some very non-specific statements; they intended for there to be flexibility in the interpretation. The Constitution is a blueprint, not a straightjacket. I understand that there are people who feel differently, that the Constitution is an inflexible document that does not allow for interpretation, and while I disagree, I respect their right to that opinion.
In much the same way, I believe the Bible is a collection of wisdom, anecdotes and parables, that were meant to provide moral and legal guidance to people who lived a long, long time ago. It’s a fascinating and powerful look at a point in time, and it includes some values that were meant to be held on to regardless of the time period, and it includes some very era-sensitive observations that are little more than historical footnotes today. I mean, being stoned to death for planting different crops side-by-side or for wearing clothing that contains more than one kind of thread (Leviticus 19:19) are examples of things that may have been relevant and even critically important to society when they were written, but they don’t have any relevance today, and they aren’t taken seriously or adhered to in everyday life. Some parts of the Bible seem to be historically relevant with little direct religious reference, some of it seems to be pure allegory and some of it is designed to provide the foundations of the religion that is Christianity. Much the same way the Constitution is the blueprint for the country that is the USA, the Bible is the blueprint for people who wish to be Christians. I understand that there are people who feel differently, that the Bible is the divine word of God and that every word it contains is Scripture, and while I disagree, I respect their right to that opinion.
So what happens when the two documents, and their most ardent, inflexible adherents, cross paths? Language and religion gone wild. Contemplate the following:
In this corner, we have a core sacrament of the Christian faith. It’s an institution that God has a particular fondness for, and it’s one where a man and a woman profess their love for one another in the sight of God and his followers. It’s typically bestowed by a member of the Clergy, and carried out in a place of worship. The sacrament itself isn’t really relevant to the larger world; it’s not recognized specifically by the Federal government any more or less than any other religion because the government doesn’t recognize sacraments. The believers of the Christian faith are guaranteed the freedom to worship as they see fit, and their right to participate in this religious institution is protected by the First Amendment.
In the other corner, we have a secular institution that is defined by law and recognized as binding by the Federal government. It’s not a sacrament; in fact it’s not a religious thing at all. It’s one that allows two American citizens to take advantage of a long, long list of rights and protections, some of them so basic and fundamental in nature that they aren’t offered anywhere else in US law! This legal arrangement isn’t really relevant to religious organizations since it’s a 100% secular agreement. It’s typically put in place in a court of law, and it’s offered to people of all religions and to those who don’t believe in any religion. The right to participate in this legal contract is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
On the face of it, we have two things that shouldn’t ever really intersect, don’t we? One religious, one secular. One a commitment to God, one a legal arrangement. One for believers only as a gift from God, one for all Americans as a birthright. Both guaranteed by the US Constitution as a right of all Americans.
But what if, just what if, those two things shared the same name? What if BOTH of those things, which we’ve just differentiated in almost every possible way, were called “marriage”? Oh boy, people lose their minds…
For those of you who know me, you know where I fall in this argument. I will fight for your right to believe in anything you want, because you are an American and the Constitution gives you that right. But it also promises equal protection under the law to ALL Americans, and so while people of faith can put any limits they want on the first definition of marriage, it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional to limit the government recognized protections in the second version from being available to all Americans. It has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the Constitution. Unfortunately, the two definitions must be able to stand side-by-side in order for everyone to be able to have their rights respected, and those who subscribe to the religious definition seem to be unable to make that leap. Until they do, we’ll have Americans who are ostracized and oppressed, and who aren’t treated as full Citizens. This will ultimately be destructive to both sides and both definitions, and in the meantime it’s the society of Americans that suffers.
Of course, much like not every technologist is bigoted against cloud models, not every Christian is either when it comes to marriage. I have found people who feel strongly about their faith and their convictions who are willing to listen and understand and maybe find some common ground. I am an optimist by nature, and I believe that people will find a way to get along. After all, the same book of the bible that condemns also affirms that it’s not man’s place to judge others, and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Maybe we can say the same about technology, after all it’s the customers who ultimately decide on and validate products in the market, and as long as everyone is working to identify those needs and serving them, there’s room for many different models of IT.