Software now leads hardware in terms of overall tech spending, and the biggest growth in software spending is actually not software at all, according to Forrester. No, the biggest growth drivers in tech today are SaaS applications, general business intelligence products, and specialized analytical tools. Sure, some of these run behind the firewall, but increasingly businesses are following consumers to the cloud. Where businesses don’t seem content to follow consumers, however, is in the simplicity of their cloud products.
Some enterprise vendors get this. Take Box, for example, whose cardinal rule for its content collaboration services is simplicity. If real human beings don’t want to use the software/services, then why should enterprises waste money trying to force them to do so?
But far too many cloud vendors mire themselves and their users in complexity. As Charles Babcock writes, “I am struck over and over again how easy it is to discuss cloud computing in high sounding terms, while those plunging into the cloud are thrust into a welter of new technology processes and complex responsibilities.” Bingo.
Cloudscaling’s Randy Bias goes even deeper, picking apart the problems Infrastructure as a Service vendors have had in making it super-easy to run systems in the cloud. As he notes, “[M]any engineers see understanding and developing complex systems as a rite of passage. In reality, the true test of a great engineer is their ability to make things simpler, not more complex.” As he goes on to say, complex systems tend to fail, but simplicity enables scalability.
Just ask Amazon, whose public cloud is by far the most widely used in large part because it’s comparatively easy for developers to use.
I see this in the systems management world, which actually tend to compound the problem of complex cloud systems with complex tooling that exacerbates the very problem it could help to solve. Bias talks about the problems inherent in presenting users with too many choices (e.g., multi-hypervisor IaaS offerings), but the same is true with the language used to describe systems.
For example, we talk a lot about real-time, but the best description may actually be this one that I found: human real-time. Ultimately, a user really doesn’t care how the vendor goes about processing and delivering insights into systems so long as it’s happening as fast as they need. Nodeable uses continuous computation. Other vendors may prefer an alternative. But, again, I suspect very few users actually care. They just care that the analytics serve up insights that are timely and germane to their jobs.
Cloud was supposed to make life easier for the enterprise, and I think it’s accomplishing that goal, on balance. But we have a long ways to go toward simplifying the cloud for users, and not just in how we explain it. Recent history suggests that the companies who do best at simplifying complex systems – think Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and others – are those that win big in terms of revenue. It turns out simplicity pays.