“I’m free to do what I want, any old time”
– “I’m Free” – Rolling Stones
Here comes the Revolution
Anyone reading the tech news today these days can see that something profound is happening with enterprise software. Venture capital money is flowing into enterprise startups (including Sumo Logic). Old stalwarts like Dell and BMC are likely to be taken private in order to rework their business models. The stock of other software titans are being punished for clinging to old, proprietary models. Most of the old school crowd are trying to improve their image by buying younger, more attractive companies – like IBM with Urbancode. So, exactly what is happening?
Some of it is clearly not new. The big fish in the enterprise pond are always gobbling up the small innovators, hopefully improving the lot of the larger company. Why then are some calling this the Golden Age of Enterprise Software? Many will point to BYOD, Cloud, Big Data, DevOps, etc. Personally, I think there is a more subtle trend here. More than ever before, software developers have tools at their fingertips that allow them to deliver software quickly and efficiently, and conversely they are also being held more responsible for the performance of that application.
In the best case scenarios, this has led to highly disruptive and innovative practices that shatter the enterprise software model (take Etsy and NetFlix as two prominent examples). Instead of an operations team passively receiving poorly tested code from unengaged developers, you get highly automated, constantly adapting architectures deftly driven forward by highly-skilled, and highly-motivated DevOps teams. I am not saying something new here. What I personally find interesting here is the disruptive effect this is having on enterprise software, in general. Here are three general trends I see:
1. The Rebirth of Automation
This is the DevOps trend that most point to, which is dominated by Puppet Labs and OpsCode (Chef). It seems 90%+ of DevOps discussions start here. The deft combination of flexibility, expandability, and community appeal to the development mindset already conditioned by the open source movement. The idea of “Infrastructure as Code” is a natural extension of first virtualization, then cloud computing. It is so easy to create new “servers” now, that there is no excuse not to completely automated the build and maintenance of those servers.
2. The “Re-discovery” of the Customer
The proven theories of lean manufacturing have long stalked IT in the form of concepts like lean software software development and six-sigma. And some of the DevOps community is trying hard to bring these concepts to IT Operations. Underlying this is the trend towards the importance of consumer and user satisfaction. The switching costs are so low, and the modes of feedback so verbose, that companies can no longer afford to ignore their users. This means that the lessons learned by the automotive industry – eliminate everything that doesn’t provide value to the customer – are now essential for the IT industry. This is not good news for legacy software companies associated with the image of uncaring, passive IT departments. It is also fueling the rise of cost-effective solutions like SaaS (are million dollar software solutions gathering dust providing customer value?).
3. Measure Everything
As the DevOps movement takes on more of Lean thinking, then the importance of measurement rises. In the seminal book on DevOps – “The Phoenix Project” – monitoring is a central theme. We see this in the real world with Etsy’s efforts. They are monitoring thousand of metrics with statsd, providing insight into every part of their application. So, what’s different here? In the old world, what you monitor is dictated to you by software vendors who deliver generic metrics to fit all customers. In the new world order, developers can add metrics directly into their logs, or through a tool like statsd, and monitor exactly what they want to. In the spirit of open-source, it is more important to get what you need (custom, relevant metrics), rather than get it in a pretty package. In essence, this means that the old Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools may be headed for a rude awakening. Why do you even need an APM tool, if you can pump custom metrics to a generic graphing tool, or a log analysis tool? Well, I am not sure that you do…
These points are only one small part of what is changing, and I don’t claim to know exactly what the future bodes for IT software vendors. What is obvious, though, is that the barriers to entry for innovation are low, and the money willing to chase it is plentiful, so this is definitely a golden age – just not for the old school, perhaps…
* Picture of statsd graph from Etsy’s blog – Code as Craft