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The Future History of Cloud Brokerages

Walter Lindsay
May 15, 2012

An excellent predictor of the future is the past. That is, things with fundamental similarities tend to behave and develop in similar ways.

“… in August 1831… the Camden and Amboy Railroad … took delivery of a shiny new locomotive built … in Britain.  The reception party included the last-surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence; it is an indication of the importance that the citizens of the young republic attached to technical innovation that he declared the arrival … to be the most important event in his life!”[1]

One might argue that the 1800s had hype cycles.  But there is more to the story.

Railroads integrated the states into a nation.  Europeans and Americans had anticipated that the vast expanses and divergent cultures of the United States would cause the different states to go their own ways.  This concern figured prominently in the Federalist Papers, for instance.  Railroads as technology, railroads as providers of services, and railroads as triggers for innovation all helped to integrate the nation in new ways.

Railroads were inherently multi-tenant.  People showed up at the station.  They got on.  They got off when they wanted to.  Some, such as candidates for high offices during campaign season, used private trains, but most trains were multi-tenant.

If you wanted to ship 100 cows, the railroad could do it for you.  It had highly elastic capacity.

Soon after 1831, a train in the US reached 60 miles an hour.  The wagons settlers had previously used to cross the nation to settle the West travelled less than 20 miles a day, on average.  Like a cloud, once built, a railroad provided an incredible jump in agility for its users.

Railroads were used for both B2B and intra-company use cases.  They carried goods from one person or company to another.  They moved goods back and forth between different parts of the same company.

They moved any kind of cargo.  Fine china.  Wheat.  Books.  You name it.  They even moved the money and the bookkeeping information (metadata) needed for commerce and banking.

Railroads triggered profound change.  For one, they taught the industry and nation how to handle speed.  The literature of the time shows how much the carnage of railroad accidents affected popular imagination.  It took time to know how design the complex system of track, locomotives, things which might get on the track in front of a train, signals, and human management to make railroads more reliable.  Multi-tenant clouds raise concerns about information security in new ways.  And one cloud’s dependency on another cloud managed by someone else is forcing us to address SLAs in new ways.

Railroads also forced businesses to organize differently. The Puritan Gift documents how railroad companies innovated to manage large teams that had to work as a coordinated whole even though separated by long distances.  If two trains running in opposite directions on a single track were not to hit each other, complex signaling, precise timing, scheduling, delivery of fuel, and much else was needed.  Railroad companies had to invent the idea departments within corporations.  Users of cloud computing thrive better once they have broadly reusable services. We are in the midst of significant changes in information architecture.

Furthermore, if a railroad station opened near your town or farm, your land was immediately more valuable.  Rather than driving cattle for days to reach a station, a rancher might be only a short distance away, dramatically increasing the profitability of that ranch.  Railroads changed the economics of things around them.  Ditto for clouds.

And, incredibly important for us today, once a railroad was built, one could begin to use it incrementally.  Maybe a person made a short trip to visit a relative.  Maybe a farmer tried buying perishable goods by mail order, something not previously possible because of spoilage.  Cloud adoption can also be an incremental process.  Sort of.  It is probably hard to have a third of a unified business process in a cloud.  However, a business might be able to deploy individual processes at a time to the cloud, instead of switching all at once.

And, fortunately, you can accelerate migrating data-intensive business process to the cloud.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, you should ask about Liaison’s Map Intuition.  It is a key part of getting business processes to the cloud.



[1] Hopper and Hopper, The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Dream Amidst Global Financial Chaos, 2009, p. 64.

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