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.