Too big to fail

There is this saying in the English language that something is “too big to fail”. It can refer to almost anything, a country, an initiative, a company, etc. What it tries to say is that, whatever the subject, is so big by now that there is simply no chance that it will ever go away again. You may have already heard this saying you may have not. However, I come across this phrase quite a bit in the IT world too. A technology is too big to fail or a company is too big to fail. And yet, the reality is that nothing is too big to fail!

Brendan Gregg published a blog post in which he says: “When I first joined Sun in 2001, it was believed that Sun was too big to fail, as well. Nowadays, Sun is a cobweb-covered sign at the Facebook Menlo Park campus, kept as a warning to the next generation.

It is indeed an interesting fact that made me think: Sun Microsystems was once a bright shining star in the IT world. Sun hardware was found in pretty much any data center and Sun itself was for many companies the #1 go-to vendor when it came to server hardware. And look where they are now! All that remains at the former headquarters of the once big and shiny vendor is a cobweb-covered sign. Why did they fail? Was it the emerge of cheaper, yet fast enough CPUs? Was it the resulting cheaper commodity servers that came with those CPUs? Was it Linux that superseded Solaris as the operating system of choice for servers? Well, all of the above probably played a factor along with many others that resulted in the downfall of Sun Microsystems. We could, of course, debate endlessly why Sun ultimately failed but this is not my intention. Sun Microsystems, the once big and shiny IT vendor is no more. The technologies it provided slowly fell out of favor (with the exception of a few, for example Java) and Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle in 2009, marking the official end for the company.

The hard truth is that what happened to Sun can happen to any company. None of the IT vendors out there today is guaranteed to survive. Not even the big ones, as Sun has proven to us. Trends can change and technologies can go out of favor being replaced with others. It is a constant battle that companies have to fight, the battle of staying relevant! At the end of the day the only thing that matters is to provide value to your customers. If you do so, your customers will be willing to give you money for the value-add you can provide them with. If you don’t, well, why would they give you their money? Why am I bringing this all up you may ask yourself. Well, because in IT trends tend to change every so often and the current trend we are on is called “cloud computing”. Whether we like it or not, the entire industry has shifted towards a new way of doing things, providing “clouds” for consumers, companies and individuals alike, to run their workloads in. “Run cheaper, faster and easier in the cloud than you can ever do it yourself!” tends to be the slogan, not always being quite true of course, but people like what they are hearing. And as people flock over to the new lands of cloud computing, does it really come as a surprise that all the big IT vendors, as well as pretty much everyone else, have jumped aboard the “cloud” ship, too? Who can blame them? It only makes sense for them to reorientate themselves towards what their customers are asking for and willing to spend money on. Even within the IT departments of companies you can see that trend. There is almost no company anymore that isn’t having a cloud initiative of some sort somewhere. It might not be that obvious to see, especially in big organizations, but the spotlight on cloud is there because the CIOs and CTOs out there are asked how their companies can save money and yet achieve more. Not that the ask is anything new. It always has been there and always will be because that is the job of CIOs and CTOs: To come up with answers for that question. And although the ask it nothing new, the trend certainly is. The trend of cloud computing that provides you with something cheaper, faster and easier than you can ever do it yourself. It’s a great slogan! Would you not take a look if you were in the shoes of those CIOs or CTOs? Well, turns out that they are, and they are also asking their vendors how they are playing a role in that new world of cloud computing. So, as a result, what are those vendors going to do when they are asked such questions from their customers? Do you think that they will tell them that they are not part of this new world? Or do you think they are going to think hard about what their story is and how they continue to provide value to their customers going forward? I think that by now it’s pretty much clear that the answer is the latter. There is almost no vendor out there anymore that doesn’t mention the word “cloud”. Software vendors have rewriting their apps to run in the cloud and entirely new companies have spun up providing new software for the cloud. Meanwhile all the big infrastructure vendors provide their own cloud now. Did this come as a big surprise? Not really. After all, it’s all about providing value to your customers. And if your customers are willing to spend their money now on cloud and no longer on the “old way of doing things”, can we really blame anybody who wants to make sure that they remain relevant in this brave new world and that their technologies don’t fall out of favor? After all, we know that nobody is too big to fail

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