Reader Robert Pearson made an interesting comment that I wanted to respond to at greater length. Responding to the recent Architecting the Internet Data Center series, he wrote about the problem of the Enterprise Data Center (EDC):

But finally, I have to ask whether the IDC solves a problem that we need to solve, enough to go up the IDC learning curve — and someone also said that the IDC learning curve is not an easy one. Yes, IDC solves the problem of economies of scale with Information volume between service providers and service consumers on a network, where both providers and consumers can commoditize Information costs as they please. But if it’s too hard, then I will find a simpler solution.

EDC: Why Is It So Hard?
My first job in the computer industry was selling for DEC into Tektronix, at that time an F500 company. Corporate IT was solid IBM, so I spent my time nosing around the business units, looking for sales. There were plenty because the IT organization had things it liked to do, and ways they liked to do them, and if the business units didn’t like it, tough. The batch MRP system was a case in point.

Real-Time + Three Days
In the early 80’s Tek was coming off years of breakneck growth and facing greater competition from HP and the Japanese (remember them – they were going to take over America?). So Tek needed to streamline manufacturing: increase inventory turns; improve quality; build-to-order; JIT; the whole six-sigma, lean manufacturing, quality-is-free shooting match.

Since this was a corporate program, corporate IT took the lead. Their friendly IBM sales team did the classic golf-with-the-CEO topdown sale, and in fairly short order for IBM – about two years – each of the divisions had a brand new IBM 4341 mid-range mainframe with MRP software.

That’s when I started getting calls. “What can DEC do? This IBM stuff is useless.” The big problem? It was a batch system, and it took three days to learn what happened on the factory floor. Useless.

Surround And Penetrate
What I learned from this is that corporate IT, who typically run the EDCs, are almost pathologically conservative. They’ve loosened up some in the last 25 years, but not much. IT innovation is almost exclusively perpetrated in the business units, by the folks who have the business need and see the opportunity.

Minicomputers in the 70’s, PCs and PC networks in 80’s, the internet in 90’s, in each case the glass house was the last bastion of corporate resistance. They aren’t bad people, they just aren’t aren’t set up to be innovators. Business units, typically, are. There is a lot more that could be said, but that’s for another time.

How Enterprise IT Evolves
The short answer: slowly.

Preferred vendors can introduce new technology that will gradually be accepted. Or the business units can make something work, prove the business value, and then hand it over to the EDC. I expect that is how Internet Data Center (IDC) methods will be adopted. Somebody will spot a business opportunity that requires lots of cheap storage and some tech wiz will say “I know how we can do that” and, if it works, IT will inevitably have to support it.

It would help if an entrepreneur and/or VC would actively start investigating this area and pushing for enterprise-scale products using IDC strategies. Focus on software to create resilient systems from commodity hardware. Opportunity: BU initiatives that require speed and scale. It is the classic new-vendor entry point.

So I don’t expect corporate IT to embrace the methods pioneered by Google and Amazon. I do expect smart people will figure out to use those methods to benefit enterprise business. Then the glass house will have no choice.