Steve Yegge, a Google engineer, recently posted a long rant on Google+ about how Amazon does everything wrong and Google does everything right. Probably the most traffic generated for Google+ since they launched, which is why he most likely still has a job. While it was painfully excruciating to get through, I wanted to make sure I read the entire entry because the focus wasn’t really on Google at all, but on a transformative idea of Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.
As Steve points out at some point Bezos got “it” and he realized the power and the value in his company wasn’t just to be an online retailer, but to the be THE platform for online retailing. Now, to fully understand this, Bezos didn’t say to his team build me a platform that handles every aspect of online retailing including managing the supply-chain and facilitating third-party suppliers to sell directly through Amazon. What he said was simpler than that, but significantly more powerful; he said, every team in the business will expose their data via a service interface.
Now, I’ve written about Enteprise SOA till I’m blue in the face and still had to deal with arrogant dweebs argue about REST vs. SOAP or top-down vs. bottom-up just more people who didn’t get that SOA is an architecture that should be applied to the business, not to just the software. Now, I have the greatest proof point imaginable for my argument, Amazon is the embodiment of Enterprise SOA; no two teams can communicate data without going through their own public interfaces or face termination. I guarantee that format, protocol, size, shape, smell, whatever attribute you want to convey about SOA all became irrelevant after a few months of your fellow workers kicking the crap out of you for having a broken or dysfunctional interface.
This isn’t even the best part of the story; it’s just the beginning. What Bezos effectively created by this one mandate was to turn Amazon into a platform. Amazon today is probably the most powerful retail platform in the world. The underlying software helps that platform to run smoothly, but the platform is more than the software. It’s the people, the processes and the technologies working together in harmony to move products from buyer to seller in both physical and digital forms.
Additionally, what Amazon realized in due course of this act is that the computing platform developed to drive their retail platform can also play a significant role in helping other businesses become a platform as well. Hence, Amazon Web Services is the embodiment of that effort providing the same methodology as Amazon the retail platform uses to the world-at-large.
On the other side of the jungle sits a million pound behemoth attempting to stay valid in this fast moving cloud market, where lots of small and mid-sized competitors, as well as some large competitors, are all already vying for leadership positions. Companies, such as Dell, Google, HP, Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft, Unisys, and Harris are established firms with solid client bases that are all looking to deliver cloud services to the enterprise. So, what can IBM do as a Johnny-come-lately to the cloud game to compete in this arena?
Obviously, IBM believes it’s been playing in this cloud game for some time, but perception is reality and when people talk cloud, IBM is typically not part of the conversation. And, that’s when it hits me, IBM needs a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to turn this perception around. They’re not going to win this game by throwing money and people at the problem, it’s a different world led by a different mindset and Grandpa’s enterprise computing approaches aren’t going to cut it. IBM needs to become the platform! They need to embody everything they know and have been delivering for the past 100 years, package it and deliver it through service interfaces. They need to make every team work with every other team only through service interfaces. And, most importantly, they need to change the conversation from “what is cloud computing” to “what is cloud computing about”.
Now, I suppose this same approach could work for HP and Microsoft as well since they too both struggle to stand out against in the field of cloud computing. However, at least HP and Microsoft are part of the conversation. Maybe I’m just rooting for the underdog like I always do, which is why I still haven’t given up on the Washington Redskins … yet! It would be fun to watch a behemoth like IBM come stomping from the backfield, crushing those with existing market penetration and moving to the front of the pack to compete against the leaders in cloud computing.