The Consumerization of IT

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 13 March, 2007

New technologies tend to get their start as business tools, because if you can show them the numbers businesses will buy cranky, expensive and barely workable solutions. Such as today’s enterprise data and storage systems.

What is the “Consumerization of IT?”
There are three major aspects to consumerization. The first is the application of high-volume technologies – high-volume because consumers are buying them – to data center equipment. Two examples are the PCI I/O busses and PATA/SATA drives.

The second is the distribution of industry revenue: consumer spending for IT exceeds that of business spending. We can expect faster consumer spending growth than business spending for the next decade at least. If it hasn’t already happened, the storage industry is about to see consumer spending for external storage exceed business spending.

The third is the provisioning of IT services designed for consumers. The world’s largest data centers now service consumers, not enterprises. Also, many of these internet data centers use little equipment from traditional IT vendors because their scale required solutions superior to what the vendors had on offer.

There are many other implications of consumerization with some surprising results, some of which I will explore in the future.

Wide Tech vs Deep Tech
Consumerization implies “wide” technology that is applied horizontally throughout the IT infrastructure, business and consumer. However, there will also be “deep” tech: products for the massive scale-out architectures required to provide pervasive consumer services.

Scale out systems management, statistical intelligence apps, programming tools and more are all areas that will see major growth (see Mission Impossible: Managing Amazon’s Datacenter for a recent example). These technologies will remain as invisible to consumers as, for example, power industry SCADA systems. Until they break.

Deep tech will be the place that people who want nice steady careers will go. The cowboys – yes, this means you, Dave Hitz – will be moving into the consumer side. Fortunes will be made in deep tech – think of the companies and individuals who drove containerization into world shipping – but if you want to be a high-tech rockstar, consumer wide tech is the place to go.

Let’s get this on paper: computer printers
A good example of what consumerization means may be found in the printer business. 25 years ago computer printers were almost exclusively for business. Digital Equipment had made a small fortune selling the LA-series impact printers that were rugged and reliable, but nothing you’d want around the house. IBM sold big, boxy lineprinters that could chunk out listings and reports all day.

In the mid-80’s the laser printer and later inkjets started to make inroads. Digital decided to get out of building printers, HP decided to get in, and who is selling billions of dollars of highly profitable printer cartridges today?

Big, high-volume printers still exist and always will, but consumerization of printers has moved the serious competition – and the serious money – to the home and SOHO markets.

The StorageMojo take
Consumerization is a process, not a destination. The growth of a consumer storage market will have a massive impact on enterprise storage. The non-IT people will have access to more modern and cheaper technology than the data center does. Applications such as Apple’s Time Machine will change how people expect to interact with data recovery operations. Data center folks will be trying to meet new expectations with clumsy and costly tools designed for very different needs.

The process is that average industrial-society folks will be grappling with storage problems – just as we now grapple with computer problems – and smart people will be working to make it easier with a mass market to justify innovative and cost-effective products. That relationship will evolve much faster than storage technology has up to now. If you are a storage hot-shot, get ready to ride!

Comments welcome, as always. I’m traveling AND having network problem, so moderation will be slower than usual, but keep the faith, I shall moderate.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Farley March 13, 2007 at 8:44 am

Robin, this is a terrific topic. Consumerism as you describe it has been a powerful force in the enterprise storage industry, although held back by the conservative , risk averse nature of the market. Your highlighting disk drive reliability in recent posts certainly puts a point on what is going on here.

The question in my mind is: What is required at a systems level to meet the requirements of sound business management while applying the economic advantages of consumer technologies? A bare SATA disk drive may be an enterprise device, but it has severe limitations as a discete data access mechanism. In the end, the supporting structure we put around the consumer pieces have significant value and importance.

I think the airline industry provides some interesting food for thought. A few weeks ago, the most consumerized airline – JetBlue – fell flat on its face during a storm-induced logistics crisis. If their consumerized product is daily flights, they had a massive failure due to pushing the consumer-edge too far. Lacking a sufficiently deep logistics function, they couldn’t get their consumerized machine off the floor. If they sold storage, they would already be dead in the water. It will be interesting to see how JetBlue does in the months to come, I know I’m going to try to avoid them.

So I guess I disagree with what you seem to say about storage system companies like Netapp, EMC, EqualLogic (my company) and others becoming wide technology. Our business is in finding components and packaging them for the requirements of the market. If the market continues to favor 24×7 data availability, then strong (deep) infrastructure products will continue to be required and guys like Dave Hitz and me will toil in the depths as opposed to dancing under the footlights of iPods and other sexy consumer goods.

Robert Pearson March 13, 2007 at 10:04 am

Good topic and well said.
In a similar discussion at http://www.drunkendata.com/?p=1017, “bvn” advocates a robust Information Stack (IS) while “jon toigo” is for the total consumerization of the IS, a position I was and am very fond of but can no longer support. It flies in the face of Storage purchasing reality.

Robin Harris March 17, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Marc,

You have the most agreeable way of saying you disagree. . . .

Just as disk drive manufacturers have dwindled from 140+ to half dozen or so, I think it likely that storage clusters will eventually dwindle to a few players. That may be decades away, yet it seems like it should be a utility-type market: how many firms build massive power plants?

Massive, scale-out storage clusters are a horizontal application. 24 x 7 availability is consistent with that. The key is the architecture that enables high-volume low-cost products to produce the desired result. Amazon and Google both seem to have broken the code, and there are plenty of other approaches out there, such as the one Microsoft has been rolling into MSN.

So for the sake of your stock options, I hope EqualLogic becomes a wide technology vendor.

Robert,

I checked out bvn’s comment and he gets right to the heart of why storage is such a conservative industry. The risks are huge.

Yet the industry and customers do change. By today’s standards the first five year’s worth of RAID arrays were crap. Nonetheless some brave people bought them and over a six to eight year period a majority of external storage went to RAID.

Will storage clusters move as fast? Stay tuned.

Robin

Dave Vellante June 18, 2007 at 5:13 am

Very interesting discussion. One we’re taking up on the 19th of June in the Wikibon community teleconference. It would be a pleasure to have some of you folks join (http://www.wikibon.org/index.php?title=Storage_community_calendar/Calendar_%22Storage_Community%22_%286-19-2007%29_-_Event_1)

The costs of storing a minute of audio are about the same as dial tone today and folks like Amazon and X-Drive (and I would argue Google with Gmail) are ‘double-dipping’ today using thin-provisioning-like technologies and easy-to-understand monitoring, metering and ‘chargeback’ software to condition consumers that storage consumption can actually be transparent and utility-like.

IT shops and vendors alike had better understand this trend.

Ron Wilkins June 21, 2007 at 4:46 am

Hi all.
Interesting discussion you have here.
Consumerisation is a trend of user wants forcing it’s self onto business budgets. For storage a simple issue has come around with ipods and itunes. I have seen a number of occations network disk quotas being stretched because users want to extend their music collection or media (business media) information to collegues. As a result itunes is nudging more and more into the office environment. Forcing IT staff to support and cater for the extra capacity.
Once some early adopters introduce the consumer technology to the business. The business in turn will bring up to date the later adopters. Closing a circle on consumerism if you like. 🙂
Another issue is the availability of this data, once it is required for business it is required to follow business flexibility and be available everywhere at all hours of the day. So we will probably see an increase in mobile storage and home needs increasing to follow suit.

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