Gregor Petri

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Gregor Petri
Research Director
3 years with Gartner
19 years IT industry

Gregor Petri is a Research Director at Gartner, covering cloud computing, cloud services brokering and communications service provider cloud strategies. Read Full Bio

Tune into the Cloud: God is a DJ

by Gregor Petri  |  January 11, 2015  |  Comments Off

Despite valiant efforts of the Dutch ICT association, the local ministry of economic affairs and tireless encouragement from (now former) EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes, my home country, the Netherlands, has been struggling to gain cloud momentum. Not an uncommon characteristics in Europe but a sharp contrast to the US, but also to Dutch progress in the music scene.

The music industry –  especially the dance segment – is in fact increasingly being dominated by Dutch names. After Tiesto, Armin van Buren and Ferry Korsten now tracks from Afrojack, Dash Berlin, Nicky Romero, Fedde le Grand, Martin Garrix and Hardwell are storming the global charts. (Come to think of it, these names are not nearly as Dutch as the DJs themselves, but that makes their success not any less remarkable.)

DJs are the new rock stars, with lifestyles including perks such as  touring the world in private jets and doing sets for amounts others can only dream off. But in cloud terms DJs are  very similar to cloud service brokers: DJ’s add value to standard products by aggregating, integrate and customize these.

Regarding Cloud Service Brokering I get questioned almost every day – also by service providers – whether you can make a decent living wage from brokering: “Will customers really be willing to pay for a mix of standard products?” Undoubtedly a question that the parents of today’s top DJs also contemplated, when their son (or daughter) spent another all nighter with their headphones and a laptop in the attic. This relatively modest need for capital investment to become successful is by the way also a striking similarity between Cloud Brokering and the DJ profession.

Over time I expect another similarity to emerge. Most DJs start by enriching tracks from famous  stars, but in the course of time they take more and more the lead, creating their own tracks using virtually unknown singers, session musicians and open source samples.

I expect we will also see this trend in Cloud Service Brokerage. Most brokers begin by offering products with well known names such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Azure or Office 365 or Amazon EC2. But after a while they will likely also produce services under their own name – a.k.a. private label products. The opportunities for cloud brokers here are not in competing head to head with  well-known market leaders, but in choosing smart vertical or regional niches where they can make a difference. Such as by catering to workloads that  cannot leave the country, or that must comply with local regulations or that need to adapt to local tastes and habits.

Our Dutch DJs have now discovered – also helped by the fact they tend to cooperate  instead of compete with their peer DJs – that  local flavors can travel quit well internationally. In fact many DJs are now more global household names than the artists who’s tracks they started mixing on their road to fame. If only our cloud industry could follow suit.

And also from a historic perspective, brokering may very well be the cloud activity that best fits our Dutch tradition of international trade. Many of the required (now digital) trade routes are already available in the form of our excellent Dutch Internet Exchanges. Now all we need is the matching pioneering spirit.

“God Is a DJ” by Pink (2003) (not to be confused with the same number by Faithless from 1998) begins with “If God is a DJ Life is a dance floor” and ends with “You get what you’re’ve given , it’s all how you use it“. An appropriate reference to adding value to already available standard products, a.k.a. the essence of Cloud Service Brokering (and of our national DJs).

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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And… We are Back!

by Gregor Petri  |  January 6, 2015  |  Comments Off

For decades media outlets have been using “And … We are Back!” to resume regular broadcasting after “a short message from our sponsor”.

A funny thing in this context is that some of the emerging media streams and podcasts covering the emerging world of cloud computing reverted straight back to the original form of such sponsorship messages, namely with the host of the show personally reading the sponsors message “on air”.

In the case of this blog the message from our sponsor (a.k.a. my employer)  is safely tugged away behind the paywall on Gartner.com. And although I did – with help from our PR team – maintain my regular Dutch column in print and did some other press work, it is fair to say my blogging in English took a bit a back seat during second half 2014.

However, no time like the present to pave the way to the future with good intentions.  Resolution one for 2015 being to transpose the current backlog of Dutch “Tune into the Cloud” columns into this and associated venues.

First new episode :
Tune into the Cloud: Dock of the Bay on Containers
Hope you enjoy the show.

Earlier episodes:
Tune into the Cloud: The Billionaire Boys Club on Cloud Go To Market Success
Tune into the Cloud: Locked out of Heaven on Cloud Lock-in
Tune into the Cloud: Blow on Customer Oriented Cloud Strategies
Tune into the cloud: Alors On Dance on Foreign and Collaborative Cloud Development
Tune into the Cloud: … And then there were Three… on  Software Defined Networking

 

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Tune into the Cloud: Dock of the Bay

by Gregor Petri  |  January 6, 2015  |  1 Comment

Tune into: Containers

For this New Year’s edition of Tune into the Cloud I spend a quiet, sunny morning sitting on the dock of a harbor bay  – thinking of Otis Redding –  to look at the incoming and outgoing streams into our little country called cloud. But basically I saw only one thing go by, namely: containers!

No trend is currently as hot as containers and particularly the popular container management system Docker. Although arguably just maturing, it has already reached almost mythical proportions of cloud hype. Docker would make virtualization superfluous, replace PaaS all together and thanks to unparalleled portability will put a final end to decades of platform and vendor lock-in. As a result there currently is no start-up or cloud provider who has not incorporated Docker prominently in its 2015 strategy.

But is Docker really the cure that heals all diseases? To answer that let’s look at the problems Docker itself says it addresses. Docker talks about “Build, Ship and Run, Any App, Anywhere” analogous to physical shipping containers, which thanks to standardized dimensions and connectors can be used without any problems or adjustments on trucks and ships in every continent. In fact the logo of Docker is a whale transporting a large numbers of containers on its back.

By offering a standard container format Docker addresses one of the most frequent discussions between developers and IT operations. Namely: “But on my development machine it runs fine!”. Now organisations may have had time for such discussions when they only took new developments into production once every quarter or twice a year. But for new methods like agile, scrum and continuous deployement, the logistics really need to be a lot more efficient.

The underlying problem of incompatibility is what the Linux community (Wikipedia) calls “Dependency Hell”. A condition Windows developers may still remember as “DLL Hell”. Any developer will aim to write as little code as possible and does so by using standard libraries (DLL: Dynamic Link Library) wherever possible. But in reality many of these “standard” libraries are not that standard. There are often several versions, which causes problems when merging code from multiple developers/companies or when moving code from a development or test environment to a shared production environment.

In the Windows environment this was pragmatically “solved” by placing each application on its own server (1 app per server). This caused the utilization(and thus efficiency) to decrease significantly. But thanks to virtualization we managed to somewhat address that. But with virtualization we were still  running complete copies of the operating system for each application and we have to maintain, patch and update all these different libraries for each application. Back when companies still had a small number of fairly large and relatively static applications, this was acceptable. But when moving to thousands of micro services that need to scale daily from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands or even millions of users, then this method becomes simply to inefficient (it’s no coincidence that Google is one of the first and one of the largest users of container technology).

The Docker approach (in combination with the container technology of Linux) offers a more elegant and efficient solution to this problem. Thanks to an ingenious (nested, read-only) file system everything shared exists logically only once, and thus only uses scarce resources – such as memory – only once.

Another advantage of this approach, is that developers can focus more on the application in their container, while the operations team ensures that at any time sufficient buoyancy (a.k.a. ships) is available for the containers in production. Docker is hereby used to distribute the various application containers conveniently and effectively over the available vessels. Incidentally, those vessels are  often still virtual machines, mainly because of security. Putting individual containers a float on the (public) ocean is namely still somewhat too sensitive to piracy.

The super relaxed “Dock of the Bay” is one of the last songs of soul legend Otis Redding, it was recorded just before he and his backing band died in a tragic plane crash. Redding was a singer – analogous to Docker – who originally was especially popular in his own (soul / linux) scene. But as he became more known his popularity grew also in the more conservative and traditional (pop / IT) market.

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Tune into the Cloud: The Billionaire Boys Club

by Gregor Petri  |  April 13, 2014  |  2 Comments

Tune into: Go To Market success

Not too long ago, it took even the most successful entrepreneurs several centuries or at least decades to reach a valuation of a billion and thus become a member of the exclusive Billionaire Boys Club*. Families like the Rothschild’s, the Walton’s or the Brenninkmeijer’s have indeed built up impressive capital wealth, but because it took them several generations, it often became quite diluted among brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, and even third-degree-nephews.

With the advent of first: IT; then the Internet and now the cloud, that timeframe has rapidly shrunk. Today companies with as little as 50 or even 13 employees reached valuations where reputable companies and world-renowned artists can only dream of. This acceleration is even more poignant when we look at applications in the heart the nexus of Social, Mobile, Cloud and Analytics (SMAC), such as Instagram , Tumbler and recently WhatsApp. And just like in the music industry there is a lot of interest in the tip parade: the list of runner ups; ideas and products getting ready to become the next mega hit.

Companies such as Spotify, Deezer and SnapChat are on the radar of many corporate investors and internal M&A teams, but predicting a SMAC hit is proving to be as difficult as picking the next number 1 album. Even industry experts often have no science that goes beyond general wisdom such as: ” Good things arrive fast” or “You’ll recognize a hit when you see it (it will smac you in the face)”. For large companies this type of randomness is often not acceptable, which is why they try to institutionalize their success though more formal strategies.

One of those strategies is “Lean StartUp” (after the book: The Lean Start-up). Essence of this approach is to launch a “minimal viable product” fast and then rapidly evolve from there to a more complete or even to a completely new product. All in an extremely short amount of time. Other companies choose to create so-called ” Digital Skunk Works”, by setting up their own start-up, preferably as far away from the headquarters as possible, in which they – often in collaboration with partners from all walks of life – try to create a hit. The mantra in both cases is “Fail Fast”. After all, if 99 out of 100 ideas fail, then it is better to have them fail quickly – before they have cost tons of money. And ironically that is something the agility and scalability characteristics of the cloud can help with.

This “Need for Speed” is however not just important only to technology companies. We are on the dawn of what we call the Digital Industrial Economy (DIE). An era in which more and more companies and organizations (in media, entertainment , finance, health and government ) will add value through digital moments. Moments where instant analysis of vast amounts of (often social and mobile) information is used to rapidly launch new digital services through and from the cloud. Hopefully services with enough potential to become an instant hit and move straight to the top of the charts and generate lots of “Software Defined Business”.

* An artist who knows all about how difficult it is to create a hit is Pharrell Williams, the man behind the “Billionaire Boys Club” album tape and clothing line of the same name. An album which by the way did not include a single hit. It is not that Pharrel has no hit potential. Thanks to its distinctive voice and musicality that artists like Mika, Daft Punk, Britney Spears , Snoop Dogg and many others – often for the first time since many years – moved right to the top of the charts . Pharrels contribution to Blurred Lines (a song the record company did not even want to release at first, so much for corporate insight) enabled Robin Thicke to put “the summer hit of 2013” to his name (and thus, again not to Pharrell ‘s name). But there is justice, with the song Happy from the movie Despicable Me 2 Pharrels has now scored what some already call the biggest hit single of all time. And Pharrel’s reaction? In various interviews Pharrel has expressed his surprise about the success of this song, he had not seen it coming. 

Dutch version at cloudworks.nu

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Tune into the Cloud: Locked out of Heaven

by Gregor Petri  |  April 5, 2014  |  3 Comments

Tune into: Cloud Lock-In

In the cloud lock-in is often a greater concern than lock-out*, but both should be top of mind for organizations looking to deploy cloud seriously, or better said, for organizations that want to deploy cloud for serious businessLock-in is the phenomenon that it is often difficult (lengthy and expensive) for user organizations to switch suppliers, often because after some time the software becomes so closely linked with the way the organization works that saying goodbye to the vendor becomes virtualy impossible.

 

It is no coincidence that there are only two industries (IT vendors and drug dealers) that routinely refer to their customers as “users”.As long as the supplier still has his sights set on expanding its market share, lock-in is often not a problem. But by the time the revenue from the installed base becomes more important than winning new customers, customers often start to encounter regular price increases, increasingly stringent terms of use and less responsiveness from its vendor.

 

With cloud computing that tipping point is still far away (currently the cloud market makes up only about 3 to 5 % of total IT market spend), but it is also an industry where lock-in has a lot more impact that in traditional IT. In the cloud customers are – for the whole service stack (application, middleware and underlying hardware) dependent on their supplier. Unless when the application they use is also offered as a cloud service by other providers, but that is not a very common model for SaaS offerings. Today SaaS offerings can typically only be bought directly from the authoring organization.

 

But also in the cloud lockout must be avoided. Just imagine a scenario of a typical cloud provider, who controls the entire stack from application to hardware, unexpectedly going out of business (like a Nirvanix, that had a relatively soft landing and was able to give two weeks notice to its customers) or if that provider decides it does not want to serve a certain company or country anymore. Like how several cloud providers locked out Wikileaks after the first press leaks, or a vendor like Mega Upload, where regular customers lost all access to their data after a judge ordered them to shut down completely based on media industry accusations.

 

But same can happen if a reputable large provider decides some of its products are no longer strategic. The big difference between the cloud and traditional in-house hardware and software is that as soon as the provider stops it service, the ciustoemr is immediately out of business. This is very different form traditional IT where resources could often still be used for years, even if the hardware is out of warranty and the software out of support.Having a plan B and an up to date and easy to execute exit strategy is therefore much more important in the cloud than it was in the past. Agreeing upfront what parties will be allowed and enabled to continue the services if the original provider no longer can (or no longer wants to do so). At this moment this is only pragmatically possible for open source solutions that are already offered by multiple parties, but in some countries hosting providers are putting standard rules and arrangements in place ≈to move customers from one hosting provider to another, in case the need arises, including any commercially licensed standard software.  But for traditional SaaS there is still a distinct risk f being “Locked out of Heaven”. So for now the advice from one of my first bogs ever, still stands: Any good cloud strategy must start and end with an exit strategy”.

Locked Out of Heaven is an album by Bruno Mars, an artist whose popularity grew even faster than the popularity of cloud computing. But this album is not a collection of different songs. It is a compilation of several remixes of the same number, allowing the customer to choose the delivery method that he likes best for his situation.

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Tune into the Cloud: Blow

by Gregor Petri  |  March 31, 2014  |  4 Comments

Tune into: Customer-first

Once in a while there is a powerhouse that gives an entire industry a huge blow. An example of such a move is how Beyoncé released her latest album in what observers called a fan-oriented instead of an industry-oriented way. In the cloud such a role has been attributed to Amazon Web Services , who against logic and existing wisdom began selling IT compute infrastructure by the hour (as a service).

Amazon Web Services likes to talk about its customer-first strategy. According to Amazon they prefer focusing on providing what makes most sense for their customers, instead of on trying to achieve the most strategic position for their own company. All under the expectation that this will in the end also work out best for the company.

This may seem an obvious strategy , but unfortunately we often see the opposite. Just a few years ago a U.S. mobile operator decided to replace its popular $10 bundle of a 1000 text messages with a bundle of 2000 for $20. Not because customers had asked for this, but simply because their models indicated this would increase their revenue and margins. The end result of these and other ill conceived telco actions was the current evaporation of the text message market – until recently one of the most profitable communication segments. Customers were levying en masse for free or cheaper (cloud) alternatives.

Many SaaS ( software as a service ) providers also seem to have something different than meeting the needs of customers as their first priority. Many SaaS providers only offer three year contracts that in many cases can only be adjust upward, not downwards – even if there are no technical reasons, such as the necessity of putting up a dedicated server farm for each customer, for this. A way of doing business that is appreciated by investors, venture capitalists and shareholders, as it leads to predictable and stable revenue streams, but typically not by customers.

Forbes described the Go To Market approach of Beyonce with her ​​new album , as “denying the logic that the music industry is based on” and sees it as “an approach that might work for powerhouses like Beyonce but not for most artists”. An opinion not un-similar to how many traditional minds in IT still think about buying Infrastructure by the hour: “Desirable for services like Netflix , DropBox and Flickr, but not for mainstream enterprises” .

But also Amazon sometimes takes a less customers oriented apprach. For example, in response to the decision of Beyoncé to launch her new album for the first week exclusively on iTunes, Amazon decided- together with retail chain Target to – not to offer Beyonce’s album at all. Which in turn inspired Beyoncé to organize several impromptu visits to challenger Wallmart. If these types of actions are indicative of what we can expect in the cloud industry, we have some interesting times ahead.

Blow was (incorrectly) predicted to become the first single from the album that Beyoncé launched in one go, including all the video’s and without any upfront promotion or publicity and surrounded by the type of secrecy that we normally see from companies such as Apple and Amazon Web Services.

 

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Tune into the cloud: Alors On Dance

by Gregor Petri  |  February 1, 2014  |  1 Comment

Tune Into: Collaborative Development

The name Stromae is a verlan (a rehash) of the word Maestro, Stromea’s naïve language is French, and that makes it- as for many French speaking cloud providers – harder to become an international success. Across Europe consumers and businesses still look first for national and second for Anglo-American providers. And that’s a shame, because despite the language barrier – which is magnified by the very fast pronunciation in southern Europe – there are some very interesting developments and products coming from those parts of the European Community.

For example the French OVH – named after the nickname of its Polish- French founders but also the acronym for “On Vous hébergé ” (We Host You) – has become one of the largest providers of hosted servers in Europe . With over one hundred forty thousand servers they come pretty close to American web giants. Long before Facebook started this, the engineers of the French start-up OVH designed their own servers and (often airco free ) data centers . But until recently – just like for Stromea – virtually nobody had heard of this French pioneer . In addition to private initiatives France of course also has several government-related cloud projects , such as CloudWatt and Numergy, who both arose from project Andromede . One of these suppliers recently announced a partnership for the Belgian market with Belgacom , which is also the country where Stromea comes from. His roots make its French a lot more accessible to northerners, although the spelling of a number as Papaoutai still requires some background knowledge (in school we would have written this as “Papa , Ou Est Tu”).

The creative approach of Stromae , which he during performances – such as during TED Brussels – often shares with the public, is similar to the approach of modern cloud providers . In most cases he starts (obviously at the computer) his songs with a few simple primitives, which he automates. Next he adds more complex themes and variations (for an example see youtube : Stromae – Alors on Dance / How it was made), an approach also followed by various cloud providers.

Smart cloud providers start their offer with a simple storage or compute service. This is then – including the API programming interface – made available to both the market and to private developers so that both simultaneously can expand on these primitives. The advantage of this approach is that both the lower services can prove themselves in the market ( and can be improved where necessary ) while the various development departments of the cloud provider can build new services on tp of the primitives . Recent research shows cloud providers can add new services three times faster than traditional providers . The approach of Stromae is however a lot more transparent than that of many cloud providers. In his performances he shows in detail how the number is created. Unfortunately, many cloud providers treat the way their cloud services are created as a kind of black magic.

A recurring theme for both is showing two faces. In Stromea these faces often have an androgen male / female themeVideo , while cloud providers will show a consumer and a business face . The first side – also called commodity cloud – presents itself as a platform for public services specially designed to reach millions of consumers while the other side focuses mainly on supporting existing applications that were in most cases never designed to run on cloud computing. Question is who is more convincing in performing this somewhat schizophrenic task.

Stromae is a French speaking singer-songwriter and video performer of Belgian-Rwandan origin . With the very danceable “Alors on Dance” (2009 ) , he reached the top of several European radio and dance charts. In more recent songs like Papaoutai and Formidable – a song in the tradition of the great French chansons – he shows a very different side of himself.

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Tune into the cloud: … And then there were Three…

by Gregor Petri  |  January 24, 2014  |  1 Comment

Tune into: Software Defined Networking

When I was asked last year to start as a regular columnist for the Dutch publication Cloudworks (cloudworks.nu). From now on the English versions of these Album themed columns (including links to the featured albums) are published here (english text included below).

I did hesitate to start my first column with the title of a 1979 album. But he who does not understand his genesis (hint), will have difficulty understanding the future. That “third” out of the …and then there were three… is in the context of cloud computing of course the network. Thanks to Software Defined Networking (SDN , an acronym to remember) network capacity can – over time – just as cloud compute and cloud storage capacity be consumed, allocated and even paid for on-demand and as-a-service.

SDN was by far one of the most hyped concepts of 2013. With all network providers busy building and / or acquiring technology. The largest acquisition to date (more than a billion dollars) was made ​​by a virtualization platform provider (who saw the power of taking software defined beyond compute).

A major reason for the interest in SDN is that networking and communication costs a relatively large percentage of the total global IT spending. Of the total 3.7 trillion dollars IT spending about 46 % is spent on Telecom Services ( other categories are   software 8%,  hardware 22% and IT services 25%) .Any development that influences such a large part of the total IT spend can count on great interest from vendors.

Incidentally, 13 of the largest telecommunications companies announced at the 2013 SDN World Congress in Darmstadt a joint initiative around ” Network Function Virtualization “. This initiative encourages suppliers of network technology to increasingly enable their networking solutions to run on (clouds of) industry standard servers.

The big advantage of a “software defined” network – just like any other type of “software defined” infrastructure – is that it no longer consists of dedicated and proprietary hardware boxes with names such as firewall, load balancer, router, etc. If an organization tomorrow suddenly needs twice firewals then load balancers ( or vice versa ) , they can do such through software. And as everything that is controlled by software, it can be fully automated. For end-users , this can have major advantages, for example by reducing the time needed for the network to be (re) configured can be reduced from several days to a few hours, or even shorter.

Infrastructure as a Service ( IaaS )  today allows smart applications already today to allocate the required storage and compute capacity in a flexible and elastic manner. As we described in our early 2012 research note SDN promised to make this also possible for network capacity. And indeed we now see approaches such a Network Centric Application development become more popular.

Ironically for many organizations the transition to “as a Service” IT started with giving up their traditional – fixed line based – Wide Area Networks, and replacing them with shared packet-switched networks . Networks that were based on X.25, a technology first described in the Orange  Book from 1976, three years before this classic Genesis album came out.

…And then there were three… (1978) was the ninth studioalbum of the English band  Genesis. The title refers to the three remaining band members. The melodical “Follow You Follow me” is one of the more well know tracks.

Tune into the Cloud publishes regularly on the Gartner Blog Network, Dutch version (11/15) at CW.

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Looking back and forth

by Gregor Petri  |  December 30, 2013  |  Comments Off

It’s the time of year to look at what was and contemplate on what will be. In Gartner the latter process has been formalized through the series of predict documents we publish towards the end of the year. Since a few years we precede these individual documents with a top predictions note that this year was titled “Plan for a Disruptive, but Constructive future” (press release). An important theme of this year’s predict was the rise of digital business, but also some of the darker sides of this. My section spoke about how – in the 2020 timeframe – the labor reduction effect of digitalization may cause social unrest and a quest for new economic models in several mature economies. Early signals of such movements may be larger-scale versions of Occupy Wall Street-type movements and increasing replacement of traditional paid jobs with bartering-based systems and increased reliance on volunteers in areas such as patient care.

More short-term predicts discussed how PaaS plays an increasingly more important role in SaaS offerings – with a substantial chunk of the PaaS subscription provided by SaaS providers  and how SaaS providers increasingly offer services traditionally in the realm of BPaaS providers (and vice versa). But also how (again on the darker side) several Western societies will experience major cloud outages during 2014, that cause disruption in increasingly critical processes , so well beyond movie streaming and social media services.

Other topics covered during 2013 were the growth of the cloud services market, and especially the development of the Cloud Services Brokerage opportunity . Also we expanded the cloud services portfolio heatmap model for CSPs  in our tech go-to-market research. July at Gartner is not the time for catching waves at the beach but Hype Cycle Time. Personally I contributed to 5  this year, including the brand new one on Multienterprise Solutions (remember that term as it may be one of the most significant terrains for cloud impact).

Also in August we looked at expected developments driving cloud adoption and hybrid ways to organize for that (see press release ) and we analyzed trends in questions, queries and enquiries that Garter receives regarding cloud computing. We also looked at cloud provider do’s and don’ts (like where to locate  and how not to ignore customer processes).

We started the year with the traditional cool vendor reports for Cloud Management , Cloud Services Brokerage (CSB), CSB enablement, and for the first time a special around cool vendors in the European cloud market . And off course the so called “big rocks”, the Magic Quadrants such as the global one on Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and the regional MQs for managed hosting, North America  and Europe. Something for which the preparations are again in full swing (see this blog by my colleague Douglas Toombs).

Not bad for a year’s work and that in a market that has only has just begun to live up to its expectations. Also several interviews and bylined articles hit the business press – such as “Cloudspotting is the shape of things to come”  that ran as a special insert to the Times and this one about the impact of cloud on the IT profession/professional – and to top things off I started during 2013 as regular columnist with a series of music themed monthly columns (for now in Dutch but …).

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How many CEO’s to screw in a lightbulb

by Gregor Petri  |  November 30, 2013  |  Comments Off

Is it just me or has the CEO title recently fallen pray to title inflation? More and more companies seem to find economies of scale in appointing CEO’s by the dozen, one per division, one per continent or even one per country. It used to be pretty clear that if you had a meeting with the CEO, you spoke to the guy in charge (back then in most cases it actually was a guy, although recently – especially in tech – we saw more and more gals in the top CEO position). The CEO was the one person where all the different reporting lines of modern matrix management came together and who could actually make decisions on their own (not saying the good ones did, but they could). Famous it the card saying “Ï’m CEO, B….” featured in the movie The Network. Also meetings with “the CEO” were different. First of all they generally tend to happen on the top floor (of the office, the hotel or whatever the location of the meeting was), and the road to the meeting room was full of rather nervous staff (nowadays we would call it an entourage) huddling people in and out of the inner sanctum and giving pointers like “Best not to run over as we have to get him/her to his (typically private) plane right after”.


The CEO title also – at least in Europe – was deemed only approiate if you were at the head of a fairly large and preferably multi-national organization. Sure, startups of just two people sometimes had democratically divided all available CxO titles among themselves (Hi, I am the CT/F/MO and this is Bart who is the COO and CISO). But since founder sounds so much cooler, we nowadays see less and less of that. Also founder has the distinct advantage that you get to keep that title if you grow (Have a look at the movie ”Jobs” to get an idea of the process I mean). Soon the CEO title may go the way of the VP title, which was rapidly enhanced by adding terms like Senior, Corporate, Executive and of course Senior-Corporate-Executive VP.  Let me know if you get the first card that says Sr. or Corporate CEO.


Now I am not implying or even assuming that adding multiple CEO’s is just about cosmetics and ego’s. In many cases there is a need to have units that are more agile, more aggressive and more focussed than the typical large corporate multinational. And if you as headquarter actually manage the unit as if you are merely a shareholder – meaning you sit on the non-executive board of this CEO and decide on firing/hiring/paying him but do not get involved in running the unit yourself in any way shape or form – than fine. We used to have the term “general manager” to describe that role, but within the aforementioned modern matrix organization general managers often cannot even decide when to change the aforementioned lightbulb (as facility management does so on a global basis), or on how to organize sales (as corporate product units and lines of business leaders appoint product and sales leads into his unit).


Personally I am a big believer in organizing using cell structures. The late Eckard Wintzen – founder of Origin, later part of Atos Origin – wrote a great little book about this called  “Eckarts Notes”  (in Dutch and strangely enough never translated, but for a summary in English see http://reinout.vanrees.org/weblog/2011/01/23/eckarts-notes.html).  The cell approach – where you split cells if they get tpo big to be managed by one person – was pioneered earlier and is still in use today by other IT service companies. The general idea was that within a unit of between 50-100 people you don’t need a HR department (as the general manager knows each of his people – and their strengths and weaknesses), you don’t need facility management (as you can tell people to clean up their own mess behind them) and you on’t need a purchasing department (as the GM does large purchases himself and leaves individual purchases to the (empowered) individuals . It’s a very entrepreneurial approach, some practitioners even incorporate each cell as a separate company, meaning that cells can go out of business if not managed well.

The draw back is you miss out on synergies of being big – on artificial, paper synergies like having the same type of coffee machine in all your 2000 offices worldwide (sure global facility management shows a saving of 12.5 million over 5 years, but it is 1 cent per cup or 0.0021% of overal your staff cost, so who cares!)  but also on some real synergies like shared systems, a shared accounting function or shared computer capacity. But wait a minute! With cloud computing I can have those synergies (and more), without having to be organized like a 19th century industrial estate.


Tell you what. Why don’t you have as many CEO’s as you like (but do give them full P&L responsibility and operational/tactical and strategic authority for their cell, unit or division), but stick to one CCO (Yes, one Chief Cloud Officer) who coordinates the internal cloud services (that your employees consume) and the external cloud services (that you provide to your customers). Something to ponder on in 2014? Is cloud really more about enabling cells to thrive and prosper, than about centralizing everything into a large grey monotony?

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