In the Cnet article Gartner: Prepare for consumer-led IT about a recent Gartner Symposium, the world’s largest IT consultantcy sounded the alarm for the F1000 glass house attendees:
. . . Gartner’s director of global research, Peter Sondergaard, warned conference attendees that consumerization will be the most significant trend to have an impact on IT over the next 10 years.
“We stand at the foot of a new high tide,” Sondergaard said. “There is a shift in technology ownership.” . . .
“Consumers are rapidly creating personal IT architectures capable of running corporate-style IT architectures,” he said. “They have faster processors, more storage and more bandwidth.”
He advised corporate IT executives to adapt to the changes and prepare for what he called “digital natives,” or people so fully immersed in digital culture that they are unconcerned about the effects of their technology choices on the organizations that employ them.
I’m glad he got the word storage up front, for the rest of the article, though perhaps not the actual Symposium, went on about mashups, AJAX, wikis and the like until I was ready to gag. These are all wonderful things, to be sure, yet unless the infrastructure supports the promiscuous and creative waste of storage, bandwidth and CPU cycles implicit in consumer-driven infrastructure, there can be no consumer revolution.
Mass customization, with bits
IT culture is rooted in high-volume manufacturing, where eliminating variables and consistent delivery are paramount. In contrast, today’s social-networking web app mashups are a drunken Saturday night in a mining camp. It is all flaming individuality and “look at me” capers with the occasional gun – or blog – fight.
When Novell was growing like a weed in the ’80s, IT wasn’t buying it. The corporate divisions were, because they’d bought PCs and wanted them to talk to each other. IT guys smirked at Netware’s lousy availability and primitive services as they tried, and failed, to get those PCs linked into the corporate IBM Systems Network Architecture hairball.
Don’t get me wrong, SNA worked well. It was simply costly, inflexible, closed and architected for a bygone era. Spending almost as much to interface to SNA as the PC cost was a very hard sale. Does that sound a little like today’s FC SANS? It should.
Industrial vs consumer
Industrial production is based on volume efficiencies or economies of scale. Broad-based consumption, or consumerization, is based the use of industrial technology to create small wasteful parcels whose advertising, packaging and transportation costs far outweigh the cost of the product inside the box. So it is with a consumer-driven infrastructure.
Consumers will keep things on disk, if they can, for decades (I do). They will email a 9 MB file to the next room rather than put it on a thumb drive and walk it over (I do). Consumers will download dozens of webpages to find a couple worth reading (I do).
Super-size that infrastructure for you?
Gartner calls them “digital natives”, but to glass-house civilization they look like barbarians at the gates, a mob of digital zombies mindlessly consuming everything in their path.
The technologies for cheap, high-performance, high-capacity storage exist. The demand is gathering strength. Yet as obvious as these trends are, it still looks like IT will again barricade the glass house to keep them out. The IT vendors who wait until IT surrenders will have waited too long.
I’ve been trying to get my arms wrapped around the notion that we might be living in the digital dark ages. Gartner’s scheme in a nutshell is a scenario where lunatics run the asylum and we need to be concerned (and buy their services), which fits fairly well with a dark ages scenario.
Not that it appears so dark now, but in 250 years, there might not be any knowledge of what we are about because the constant turnover and obsolescense of technologies keeps us forever looking forward to the next great fix – or lock in.
Is there a higher ground that’s worth taking in the discussion of our dysfunctional storage industry? Would anybody care?
Great comment. History of technology diffusion is right up my alley, so here are some random thoughts.
Storage is conservative by nature. Yet the forces that will reshape it over the next ten years are too great to resist for long. We live in interesting times.
I read your Jonathan Seagull writ and followed some links there to expand the context a bit and grok fuller. I don’t know if you have any interest in discussing this topic further, but I would rather not in a written/public vehicle, because things like clarifying the fine points of staments and arguments is sooo tiring in print. For instance, I would say that Gartner is not asking anybody to run anything – but that they are simply making an observation about consumerism that is roughly equivalent to the lunatic/asylum cliche. And from there, we would have these little wordy exchanges that suck in print but can be very quickly cut through in conversation.
Comparing the evolution of digital technology and automotive technology is interesting – but its not a very good analogy for thinking about a digital dark age problem. Technology obsolescense is only part of the problem. The rest of it is human and corporate: what entities that have archival stuff today will still be around in 250 years? What other entities that survived them will want to mainatain and keep the perished-entity’s data? What future budget cuts and fat fingering errors will blow archives away and go completely unnoticed. Digital archives are invisible. Will archivist actually be a paid job in the future? There are many points of failure.
Its not clear that there is much to be done, but that makes it worthwhile to ponder – it could end up impacting things like the est practices of consumers (is that an oxymoron or what?)
Finally, a Point of Light!
Great to hear from you, Marc.
Having hit the nail on the head, where do we go from here?
Are we talking preventative measures? Solutions? Defining the problem? What?
The only solution from the Dark Ages was to keep the flame alive in small
secret meetings. All the people who recognized the problem and had preventative measures, or solutions after the onset, were dead by the time
the insanity ran its course.
Like the plagues it had to run its course and the survivors were left to figure
out the new paradigm for themselves.
My model comes from the 1966 French movie Le Roi de coeur;
aka “The King of Hearts” in the USA. Starring Alan Bates.
At the end the hero goes into the asylum with the returning former residents because it is the sanest place to be.
I retired to have some sanity. I’m not sure it is worth giving up. Too many windmills, too little time.
If acid free paper is actually the best solution……. Maybe individuals need to unearth old bomb shelters and fill them with – gulp – reams of computer print outs? Yes, that would probably qualify as sufficient proof of insanity.
The question is – can we trust our institutions to preserve those things that we find most valuable. I think history has shown that we can’t. Can we trust our industries even more? That is probably laughable, but economists might have interesting things to say about that. Does that mean that future generations might be left to picking through the clues that the lunatics left behind? Does the creation of a societal organization chartered with something like the preservation of history become a target of a future political/industrial purging (cultural revolution?) or whacko vigilante group which is actually just an information terrorist organization.
I think the human condition (We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us) is that we will always have this problem, as Walt Kelly summarized so succinctly years ago in his Pogo cartoon.
How much of the dark ages are still dark? How much more would we understand about the history of Muslim/Christian dysfunctional interaction would we understand if it weren’t for the dark ages? How much more would we understand about the history of religion if it weren’t for the dark ages? What forces were at play and what actions took place that are now long erased that were so effective in such a massive expunging of memory?
OK, so that’s pretty far off topic, but I’m going to continue anyway because I can’t resist. Some of us live in circumstances where we tend to take freedom of speech for granted. Others know we should not be too cavalier about it. I think the answer for us working in the storage industry is an earnest attempt to support information preserving institutions to the best of our abilities – including some amount of work that is donated to the cause of historical preservation. That commitment could take many forms but it starts with an increased awareness by the industry that the natural evolution of technology creates problems for historical preservation and that some of the burden of maintaining our histories should be borne by the industry. Its a matter of standing up and being responsible.