What got you here, won’t get you there

By: Brad Parks

It’s been used as a hook a lot, I know’ but it’s one of those pithy truisms that is sometimes too hard for us marketing types to resist. In this case, I thought it applicable to a number of items in the news recently.

First, on the executive front, last week Meg Whitman stepped down from the CEO spot at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). Not really a surprise for anyone paying attention this past year’ in fact, quite a bit later than most speculated. To the title of this post, she came in with a turnaround plan that ran its course and she acknowledged the need for a change after exiting the software and managed services business. In my former life as a storage guy, I saw how a hardware-focused sales channel could significantly grow a business when presented with the right offer at the right time. The acquisition of 3PAR and more recently Nimble Storage were moves that I hope (as a shareholder) continue to pay off in hardware margins as Antonio takes the top spot.

That said, the appetite of enterprise customers to base their go-forward strategic initiatives on infrastructure-centric vendor engagements is not what it once was. Most have realized that the platform for digital disruption is not going to be grounded in hardware choice points or in traditional packaged applications. Converged, hyper-converged, composable, and other integrated stack conversations are all better ways of delivering hardware for sure, but they are incremental improvements in a world where step-function change is turning entire industries upside down.

Banks, transportation companies, retailers’ they are all software companies now, simply with banking licenses, distribution networks, and point of sale locations. The developers striving to move from monthly release cycles to daily, hourly, and beyond are not interested in hardware platforms. The move to multi-cloud deployments and agile development frameworks is not about what got us here and in fact as I look around at AWS re:Invent this week it reinforces that the world has changed and there is no turning back. The event has taken over 5 hotels and most of the Vegas strip and registering for sessions reminded me of going to college’ hundreds of sessions, dozens of tracks and a flurry of high impact product announcements.

This is not to say that on-premises deployments are going away, just that the world is much more complicated now for IT leaders. Much of the growth of public cloud has come from developers going around slow-moving IT processes within enterprises and more than one CIO has been shocked by 6-figure expenses due to shadow-IT. DevOps initiatives embrace this reality by having infrastructure teams shift-left and integrate into development pipelines but as that occurs, those traditional IT teams are realizing that the need for extreme agility cannot be met with legacy thinking or legacy vendors.

Everyone is a software company, everybody is heterogeneous, and everything is hybrid’ meaning having your software deployment engine dictated by a single hardware vendor, hypervisor company, container orchestrator, or cloud vendor is untenable and unrealistic. The open source world is a juggernaut for software developers and in response, multi-cloud management and DevOps automation must be just as open and ubiquitous.

It starts and ends with the applications that are transforming engagement with customers and markets. These apps may run on-prem, in hosted data centers, or in public clouds. They could be monolithic or based on micro-services architectures. They could be bare metal, virtualized, containerized, or even serverless workload elements. The truth is for most enterprises it’s all of the above meaning toolchains must take into account all eventualities and be instrumented not for what got you here but rather for whatever comes next.