It seems every week someone else is building a cloud and looking for vendors to become the ___ of choice in that cloud. But I don’t get it. What’s the big deal, it’s just a remix of the same old song. In fact, I believe that it goes further back than you think.
Let’s do the mainframe again
Back in the mid-80’s the consulting house I worked for had one of those real “sales” guys. He walked me and another consultant into a meeting with a customer to talk to them about this thing called the Internet. Shocking it was the sales guy who took the reins. Roughly here is what he said.
“The intranet will allow you to create applications that your customer can access from their own computers. And those computers don’t need any special software. All they need is this little browser software and that’s standard on most machines. The customer then goes to your site and runs what you need. It’s your computers in house that do all the work.”
I was in shock. This guy had never heard of the internet only a day before and was driven by wanting to put the team I was on onto another billable gig. When I confronted him on his knowledge. He pointed out that It was a mainframe pitch he gave, just replace browser with dummy terminal.
Executives just don’t understand
So as the technology evolved, it wasn’t enough to say internet, intranet, or extranet. We had the first attempt (3.1?) where we called it an ASP. But hey, no matter how much we use them, we all hate’s acronyms. Yes, here was a technology that allowed a company to use an application on the internet to do work inside their own business. That didn’t last too long.
Next marketing message (3.2), apps on tap (I never heard AOT). It was edgy with “apps” not “applications” and it got rid of that darn TLA (three letter acronym, for those not in the US). Yes, here was a technology that allowed a company to use an application on the internet to do work inside their own business. That didn’t last too long.
Ok what next marketing (3.3), SoA. Wait a minute didn’t TLA’s fail the first time. So yes, here again was a technology that allowed a company to use an application on the internet to do work inside their own business. Surprise that didn’t last too long.
Send in the Clouds
I imagine the meeting went something like this. Some group of marketers had been out celebrating way to late the morning before an executive keynote. Their mandate was to finally explain this concept of applications that are not inside the company being used by the company. Frustration lead to liquid libations and at some point in the early morning hours of a Las Vegas casino, I believe the following conversation took place.
- Marketer 1, “So what are we going to do. We still don’t have a message for tomorrow’s keynote?”
- Marketer 2, “What?”
- Marketer 1, “You know. We’re trying to get people to stop buying their software to install it in house and instead use it from us on the internet. Our engineering teams worked on all this new stuff that allows secure communications, authentication, and can even glue in other applications. It’s just too complex for the average customer to do without trained developers. And no one wants to spend money on training. So we need to get them to let us do all the management of the software.”
- Marketer 2, “Huh? I don’t get it.”
- Marketer 1, “Come on you know all that single sign-on software we added, the encryption of the data files, the use of secure HTTP. And that new whatchamacallit standard they implemented.
- Marketer 2 , “Sorry I just don’t get it. The concept seems a little cloudy to me.”
- Marketer 1, “THAT’S IT!”
- Marketer 2, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it. I understand the whole thing. Really I do.”
- Marketer 1, “No I mean that’s the name. Cloud. It’s nebulous, so it can cover anything we need it to. It’s fluffy, so there are no borders to what it can do. It’s vague, so you really can’t describe it. Best of all, we already have the icons in all the PowerPoint decks. I’m a genius.”
Stop the skipping record and get it Wright
In the end the problem is simple. The idea of having applications hosted outside the organization is challenging enough from a technical perspective but there’s also a faith perspective. Those of us that know the technology, know that there is no monumental shift between ASP, Apps on Tap, SoA, and Clouds. It’s a problem of getting people to believe in trusting their information to someone else. Changing the name of it every few years makes it harder to build a base of acceptance.
Imagine if the Wright brothers continued to focus on the name of the airplane. There’s so much other stuff going on inside but we still just call it a airplane. One name and they stuck with it. Add flaps, still an airplane. Put a jet instead of a propeller, still an airplane. At first people didn’t believe in the ability of a something so heavy to stay up in the air, instead sticking to rail and ship travel. But every day today people put their faith in a device that’s heavier than anything that makes logical sense to stay in the air. People spend years learning to fly OR fix OR build an airplane. But for me all that matters is that I get from Miami to San Francisco in 5 hours not 5 days.
I agree with you Marko that the technology has been there. What has changed is marketing message (or hype). If the message is not compelling or customers do not see/understand the competitive advantage, the technology may never be sold. Just look at the Apple Newton and compare it to Palm. There really wasnt much differences in features, when Palm first came out. I believe the difference was marketing – Palm had rework the message and was marketing the PDA to the right customers at the right time.
IMHO, the cloud message, as described by EMC recently, has hit the mark. I didnt feel this way the last couple of years with their messaging about cheaper storage, virtualization, web services, etc. They are finally addressing real needs of their customers and not just trying to map the technology to a business need.
Agree it’s all marketing message. But marketing needs to remember that messages take time to take hold, especially complex technical ones. I think this “fast food” mentality has really pushed expectations too far. Corporations don’t buy on buzz.