On Cloud And Disruption

CloudU Notebooks is a weekly blog series that explores topics from the CloudU certificate program in bite sized chunks, written by me, Ben Kepes, curator of CloudU. How-tos, interviews with industry giants and the occasional opinion piece are what you can expect to find. If that’s your cup of tea, you can subscribe here.

Recently at Box’s BoxWorks event, I had the good fortune to hear Clayton Christensen, author of such seminal innovation books as “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” present about disruption in technology generally. Anyone remotely involved in plotting strategy for either existing or new companies needs to read Christensen’s work. Anyway, around the same time Geoffrey Moore, author of yet another seminal business book, “Crossing the Chasm,” wrote an article in which he attempted to dissect cloud computing according to what he says is the adoption rate of different cloud applications. It’s always interesting to see brilliant and well-respected business commentators try and take their general theories and apply them to one specific area – oftentimes they come a little unstuck. The key mistake Moore makes is separating all these different parts of cloud, and not seeing the underlying trend, the fact that Cloud (notice the capital “C”), is disruptive en large.

Luckily the cloud world has its own caped crusader in the form of Cloudscaling founder Randy Bias, who came out with a well-reasoned post responding to Moore’s assertions. Bias points out, in no uncertain terms, that the error Moore made was in looking at cloud computing purely as an outsourcing model – true there are aspects of outsourcing with cloud – but there are far bigger disruptive forces involved here than simply that. As Bias points out:

Cloud Computing is *not* outsourcing. It’s a new, paradigm shift in the IT computing model akin to the transition from “mainframe computing” (aka “big iron”) to “enterprise computing” (aka “client/server”).

It is a paradigm shift that goes beyond discrete aspects of technology and instead has a massive effect on all parts of the technology “stack.” Bias helpfully provides a diagram to put this shift in context with the previous shifts that IT has witnessed – the emergence of mainframe computing, the client server era and now cloud.

Bias goes on to talk about industry trends which fall nicely in line with Christensen’s theories about disruptive forces: the struggle the existing players face, the adoption of cloud by existing customers, the new generation of applications that this disruption enables and the new revenue streams and models that are emerging.

Finally, Bias makes some big, bold predictions as to what the next couple of decades will look like in the technology industry:

…we are in the grip of a manifest disruption. It cannot end until some other new prevalent model displaces cloud computing. And if time prior timeframes are any judge, that means 2030 at the earliest.

Sometimes we need to take a step back, lose focus on minutiae for a minute and look at the bigger picture that exists. Bias’ post offers some excellent food for thought in setting out the seismic shifts we are currently in the midst of.