The Flattening of IT

By February 21, 2012glue conference

Today, we have a guest post from John Minnihan of Freepository. John founded Freepository in 1999, the first repository hosting service, and he’s a recognized expert in development automation and repository management. Between Freepository and numerous infrastructure projects over the past 15 years, he’s delivered systems that manage over 1 billion lines of code for engineers in more than 120 countries.

Last week, Eric dug into a topic that’s near and dear to me in his post “The Renaissance of Enterprise Development“. In that, Eric develops (pun intended) a well-reasoned & deeply insightful thesis on services convergence & the role APIs are playing in what I call a flattening of the IT space.

That’s the other emerging theme here, and from my recent experience at some of the most cutting-edge enterprises on the planet, it’s one that may be equally or even more important: Everything is now (or soon will be) a service. Everything. Really. EVERYTHING.

Consider what we’ve already seen take hold, beginning as far back as 1999 (we called them Application Service Providers): Development Environments (Sourceforge, GitHub, Freepository), Servers (AWS, Rackspace et al), Databases (nosql, hadoop, AWS et al), Email (gmail, hosted exchange), Corp Documents (Google Docs, Zoho,, Dropbox et al), and Contact Management (Gist, FullContact et al).

This trend nearly completely obviates IT across the board – these four components of legacy corp IT are being vaporized: Physical servers, Microsoft-based PCs on desks, costly 6-month-consultant-on-premises deployment of ‘enterprise’ applications, Human IT support personnel.

In some companies, this shift is in the rear-view mirror. In others, it is just emerging or on the horizon. *Most* enterprises are right in the middle of it. The disruption is huge and during the ‘ratchet’ will push many, many legacy IT individuals out of the game. What this means is the typical enterprise employee today (or of the very near-term tomorrow) will have or expect: A tablet form factor device that is always online (i.e. 3/4G connected) + portable across campus or the globe; iOS or Android powered, using few – if any – MS products; Everything is cloud based, including the desktop ‘image’ they receive when they login; *Significantly* reduced IT headcount, as everything is self-support or supported by cloud-based app vendors.

I had the good fortune to spend several months recently in Cupertino. This city is a hotbed of creative, disruptive enterprises, no doubt about it – and not just Apple, folks. Just by being here and observing, I picked up a ton about IT trends inside organizations based here and in adjacent Sunnyvale. At Apple, it’s no surprise that everyone is carrying either a Macbook Air or an iPad. Walking between buildings across a very spread out campus, it was obvious most of these folks were still online (i.e. typing on keyboards while waiting at crosswalks). Even in nearby restaurants, too – I saw this every single day. Over the course of 6 months, I saw hundreds of iPhones, dozens of Android phones (if I didn’t recognize it, I’d ask) and maybe half a dozen Blackberries.

What was surprising was the number of non-Apple employees (i.e. those entering / exiting other visibly-marked company facilities) who were also carrying around the same gear, behaving identically. Now, it’s easy to assume that these folks were all connected to secure campus wifi rather than any particular cloud “service”, but still – it’s clear that the enterprise worker is no longer strictly attached to a physical desk in a physical office, anchored to a physical PC that is attached to physical wires running under the floor to a down-the-hall on-premise server room, where some guy you rarely see is trying to sort out whether the latest service packs should installed.

No single vendor is the clear winner, at least yet. Apple, Google and Amazon are huge players with billions at stake. I won’t count out Microsoft, who also have billions at stake, from becoming dominant in at least one of these service markets. My best bet (and arguably it’s a safe one) is that we’ll see a stabilization of the cloud services market with these primary players and dozens of smaller, niche companies that solve a single problem very, very well. In other words, a bit like what we have today. The vendors who are at most at risk in this scenario? Oracle, IBM, HP and Dell.

The enterprise dev who rides this disruption into the sunset – who learns + champions big data tools like Hadoop, understands that everything can be decomposed to an API or service endpoint, and then actually *uses* this to propel the organization forward – will be the winner.