Part II – Beware the Wolf in Blue Clothing

July 7, 2009 Appirio

Narinder Singh

IBM’s mixing metaphors in the cloud slows innovation and enterprise success with the cloud

In Part I of our blog we shared our thoughts on the debate between public and private clouds. Here we want to share what to expect when entrenched vendors muddy the waters in the cloud (and reissue our offer to a public webinar to debate the topic).

The Legacy Vendor Playbook
The effort for a giant to play catch up on cloud computing (or other disruptive technology innovation) normally involves three main components.

Step 1 – Name everything the same
Step 2 – Claim progress through standards
Step 3 – Build a few real, innovative solutions, but use them as a part of many existing strategies

All the while, the center of these organizations still sound like the advocates of the previous paradigms so insightfully described in Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma.”

Step 1 – Name everything the same
At one point IBM had more than a dozen (maybe 20+) products that were called DB2. SAP has similarly pulled everything into their suite whether integrated and relevant or not. This enables vendors to ensure that statements that their “product (e.g. DB2) can do X” is inevitably true.

Step 2 – Claim progress through standards
As we have noted before, a search for web services standards returns IBM as the top result with a page with over 30 WS* standards. On average a very small number of those standards are being used within enterprises to allow two systems from different vendors to inter-operate. The open cloud manifesto from IBM followed a similar pattern, it allowed them to jump closer to the center of the discussion around cloud computing without having a single proven offering related to it. The most proven demonstrable cloud innovations have come from vendors like Amazon, salesforce.com and Google. They have used proven web standards to promote interoperability without slowing innovation.

Step 3 – Build a few real, innovative solutions, but use them as a part of many existing strategies
IBM has the ability to and will deliver true, innovative, multi-tenant solutions. We have seen it before with other standards and areas of development. Yet rather than being disruptive, this innovation is cornered and primarily used to make less relevant, non-cloud based solutions appealing to enterprises and to demonstrate technology leadership in the market. Similarly, Microsoft will certainly provide interesting capabilities through Azure to allow existing .NET solutions to plug into cloud services. But their motivation is primarily to protect their investments, not their customers.

How should enterprises respond?
Now that we know what tens of millions of marketing dollars will promote, how should enterprises respond?

1. Use technology advancement from legacy vendors where it makes sense – as we mentioned, IBM (and others) will deliver some real innovation, and many of the technologies are applicable to helping you create a more efficient IT environment. In those scenarios, continue to explore offerings old and new to help reduce costs and increase flexibility. At the same time, expect incremental improvements to your current solutions – not giant leaps forward.

2. Don’t believe the hype – it’s one thing to use technologies where they make sense, its quite another to use them to accelerate your path towards the wrong destination. Continue to invest in exploring and deepening the understanding of the real cloud computing solutions and ecosystems (obviously we think salesforce.com, Google and Amazon are great starting points). Even if you are currently skeptical of (public) cloud computing, it will allow you to draw the right contrasts and clarify what is really different.

3. Use pure plays to increase knowledge, get real benefit and put pressure on legacy vendors – We have had many prospects and customers begin to explore public cloud
apps like Google simply to place pressure on their legacy vendors (Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes). In some cases, this resulted in dramatically lower renewal costs of those products; in others it led to a deeper understanding of and eventual selection of Google Apps. Either way, it’s a clear benefit to the enterprise. And over time it inevitably increases the rate of adoption of the solutions delivering superior value (i.e. the cloud).

While legacy vendors take steps to participate in the next generation of technology, they will often do so while belittling it. SAP in the past weeks has simultaneously aggressively promoted the cloud and then deemed it mostly inadequate for enterprise solutions. To cut through this alternative approach to holding on to the past, enterprises can ask a few simple quations. Is the cloud more or less capable than it was three years ago in handing our needs; will it be more or less capable three years in the future of handling our needs? Regardless of your evaluation of where it stands today, answering these questions for yourself will indicate where you should invest going forward.

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