Friday, August 21, 2009

Vision Versus Hype

Awhile ago, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock painted a vision of radical societal change due to technology advances and attitude shifts. Toffler projected changes that would transform the world thirty years in the future. I recall how foreign and frightening his book was to the average reader who could not fathom the depth of change heading their way. Vision is seldom easy to comprehend and often challenging to embrace. Experience has taught us to be wary of visions based upon over-hyped technologies. The dot.com's boom and bust cycle was an example where the reality took longer to catchup to the over-hyped technology. The hype associated with Cloud Computing seems to swell larger with each passing day.

How can one use the vague information contained within visions to help with today's decisions? In Peter Schwartz' Art of the Long View, he outlines how one can use information gathering, scenarios, driving forces and plots to help make better decisions today. All one needs to do is agree that the basis of a scenario could happen. They need not agree that the scenario will happen. Agreeing a scenario could happen is a much lower bar and easier for most people to accept. Scenarios have a probability of occurring. They make sense given the data, driving forces and plots. They are seldom accurate. Collectively, they give views into possible futures. Given these views, one can evaluate how current decisions might play out against selected backdrops. As the probability of a scenario increases, one can develop contingency plans and/or change plans.

My experience in building complex distributed systems and Cloud Computing platforms provides me a detailed view of how these types of systems are assembled, used by developers, and will likely evolve. However, I felt that I was missing the cloud (forest) for the technical details (trees). I was lacking a larger vision of how companies, markets and consumption could change as Cloud Computing evolves. I turned to Peter Fingar's Dot.Cloud book to see if he could provide a vision for these areas. Just as in Future Shock, Dot.Cloud paints a challenging vision of what may change due to Cloud Computing. Using Schwartz' notion of accepting what could happen, I found Fingar's book eye-opening. I have started to add some of Fingar's information and trends to my own Cloud Computing scenarios.

In particular, I was intrigued by Fingar's chapter on the 'End of Management' and bioteams. Fingar linked together a number of trends (Cloud Computing, Web 2.0, Work Processor, Innovation, and Work 2.0) to describe how and why historic management practices may not be effective in the future. Fingar described the rise of bioteams, or high performance teams with collective leadership. Needless to say, Ken Thompson's Bioteams book is high on my reading list. Just as I finished up Dot.Cloud, I picked up the Monday, August 17, 2009 Wall Street Journal and found The New, Faster Face of Innovation article written by Erik Brynjolfsson and Michael Schrage which echos Fingar's 'End of Management' chapter.

While the Cloud Computing hype continues to grow, I'm encouraged that there is considerable, well-considered material to foster what the Cloud Computing future may hold for us. The challenge is to keep the visions separated from the hype, to embrace the could happen, and be mindful of the will happen. Scenarios may be useful mechanisms to have constructive discussions about the future.

A disclosure, I may have given Fingar the benefit of the doubt beyond reason since he drew upon Dr. John Vicent Atanasoff as an example. I received my Computer Science degree at Iowa State University. I have a fondness of Dr. Atanasoff's work at Iowa State College and his place in computer history.


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  2. On the topic of cloud computing, I see this as a vision rather than just a hype. This vision has been steam-rolling for over a year now, and is continuing to steam-roll. Many companies have tremendously cut their operational expenses owing to their decision to do away with their hardware and shift to cloud computing. The trend will continue.

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