A few months ago, I blogged on a concept that at Gartner we had begun calling Web-scale IT. Yesterday I published a new note on Web-scale IT called “The Long-Term Impact of Web-Scale IT Will Be Dramatic.” In this document, I’ve burned all of the boats. No more analyst nuance that says “it depends.” Why? Because I’ve seen the impact of conventional wisdom on IT (and especially on IT operations which is my direct area of coverage) and frankly it isn’t delivering. Maturity levels are “stuck” and costs, even with the advent of cloud, remain too high. If enterprise IT wants to remain relevant to the business, then they’ll have to rethink the entire IT “value chain.”
So what’s the model to follow? Look to the large cloud services providers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. In other words, it’s not the cloud per se that will save enterprise IT, but thinking and acting like the major cloud providers across all the key dimensions of IT that will. And I’m saying this even with the knowledge of outages by several of these firms over the past week. Why? Because given the innovative nature of these organizations, the “system” will learn and get even better. This is the theme behind Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Antifragile systems aren’t perfect but they are designed to get better when stressed. And the systems (and by systems I mean not just the technology, but the people, processes and even culture) at these firms get stressed every day, so even when they fail, it winds up being a “win.”
I usually receive several objections when I talk to enterprises about copying the Web-scale IT methods found in these leading organizations, but let me focus on two. The first is related to size, in the context of “we’ll never be as big as Google so why is this concept relevant to us?” There are many responses to this but the one that I prefer to use is that while the term “Web-scale IT” implies scale in terms of size, there is also a scale in terms of speed. I tell my clients that there is nothing stopping them from being as agile as these organizations. Indeed, the much smaller sizes of many enterprises might actually enable them to achieve higher IT velocity than their larger cloud counterparts.
The second objection is often based on a comparison of businesses and business models. I hate to say it, but there’s often an underpinning of some smugness because the subtle message is that the enterprise is a “real business” (like a financial services firm or a manufacturer) and not one that provides searches, enables social networking or delivers videos. There are some estimates that the recent five minute outage at Google cost the company around $ 545,000. I don’t know about the real business implication, but that’s real money and I’m pretty sure that teams in Google are at work to try to see that it doesn’t happen again.
Now, let’s turn to the vendor community. While the impact on the enterprise of Web-scale IT will be large, the impact on the vendor community may well be even larger. Suppliers of traditional products and services will not go away, but over time they will largely lose their high degree of technology influence. Why? Because the enterprise IT leaders that “get it” and start to build-out their own Web-scale IT architectures will see that they no longer have to live with the historical trade-off of cost versus function. Open source hardware and software is no longer a compromise solution. In my area of IT operations technology, many open source management products are the equivalent if not better than their closed source alternatives (they’re certainly more innovative). And we’re starting to see the same thing in the hardware world through efforts like the Open Compute initiative from Facebook.
At Gartner, we’ll also have to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels. While we have a business model that has withstood the test of time and technology, we will also have to continue to innovate in order to assist our enterprise clients as they begin their journey towards this new environment. Indeed, I have received substantial internal backing within the company to pursue the Web-scale IT concept and to see where it heads. One benefit already is that I’m working with analysts in other areas such as application architecture and server hardware design so that we can provide integrative guidance across the entire IT value chain.
I’ve burned my boats. Is anyone else prepared to leave the conventional IT world behind?